The Encyclopedia Americana (1906)/Municipal Government
Municipal Government. Cities are centres of influence for good or ill. In industry, commerce, science, culture, thought, they lead the world and largely determine its destiny. If city populations are corrupt, immoral, illiterate, depraved, the whole nation is contaminated. If their government is a failure, the state is endangered, both because the cities have such a large proportion of the population and because the character of the whole country is so largely influenced by city conditions. New York city has a population greater than the 13 colonies when they broke away from Great Britain. Its wealth is 20 fold that of the United States when the Constitution was drafted. Its present annual expenditures are one fourth of those of the Federal government. Its net debt is one third of the national indebtedness, including the bonds still outstanding for the Civil War, and 30 fold the debt of New York State.
- 1 Growth of Cities.
- 2 Congestion of Population.
- 3 City v. Country.
- 4 Rural Domination in the United States.
- 5 Home Rule for Cities.
- 6 State Interference in the United States.
- 7 Special Legislation.
- 8 Administrative Control.
- 9 Municipal Functions.
- 10 Industrial Functions.
- 11 Trend of Municipal Activity:
- 12 Governmental Organization.
- 13 The Council.
- 14 The Mayor.
- 15 Administrative Departments.
- 16 The Municipal Problem.
Growth of Cities.
Population is concentrating at a rapid rate. In 1900, there were 62 cities in the United States that had a population greater than New York in 1800. During the 19th century, the percentage of the population living in cities over 8,000 increased from 3.97 to 33.1. The number of such cities grew from 6 to 545, and their combined population from 210,873 to 24,992,199—118 fold; while the remainder of the country, including all towns below 8,000, grew from 5,097,610 to 50,485,268—less than 10 fold.
The drift cityward is not confined to the United States. Every progressive country of the Eastern and Western hemispheres bears witness to the universal trend. In England and Wales, two thirds of the people live in cities over 8,000. In Prussia, Belgium and Holland the ratio is higher than in the United States; and in several other European and South American countries the proportion is nearly as large. The causes of urban growth are principally economic. The great improvements in manufacture, mining, agriculture and transportation have made it possible for a larger and larger proportion of the population to turn to pursuits other than the extractive industries. Wants have multiplied with increasing wealth, and for their satisfaction, new industries have sprung up. Since nearly all industries outside of agriculture can be conducted better in populous centres than in rural localities, they have located in cities, and there the people connected with industry and commerce have concentrated. Others have been drawn cityward by social advantages—theatres, operas, libraries, schools, etc., for the cities are the centres of culture, art and science, as well as trade and industry.
Congestion of Population.
This increasing concentration signifies not merely the union of millions under one municipal government but, what is far more important, a congestion of population which has never been equaled. The steady reduction in the space allotted to each person and the piling of house upon house have brought within the confines of a single city block a larger number of persons than the whole population of some cities. According to the last census there were in the Eighth Assembly District of New York 72,125 persons. If the whole city were as densely populated, it would contain every man, woman and child in the United States, the Territories, all of the islands recently acquired and also Mexico and Canada—all of North America. Foreign cities do not have usually as many persons per unit of ground area as American cities; their buildings are not so high. London's densest quarter does not contain one half as many persons per square mile as the lower East Side of New York city. But there is great congestion and squalor in London, nevertheless.
From this congestion, the ceaseless contact of person with person, the great density, most of the problems of municipal government spring. Expensive health departments are not needed in the country; the individual protects himself against disease. Street paving and cleaning are simple problems. Each person looks after his own water supply, transportation, lighting etc. Public service corporations cannot exist without thickly settled centres, and franchise questions do not perplex frontier districts. Home rule is not discussed. Even the village has a very simple form of government. In the city everything is changed. Elaborate health, fire, police, water supply and transportation systems are necessary. The citizen comes into too close and too constant contact with his fellows to be permitted to do as he pleases. There must be new laws, more administrative departments and a different form of government throughout. New problems arise, such as housing, home rule, public ownership and civil service—all of which, in ultimate analysis, find their origin in the great density of population.
City v. Country.
Although cities have existed ever since the dawn of authentic history, and although they have held at times absolute sway over the rest of humanity, the modern city is the outgrowth of the last century or of the last 150 years at the most. Down to the foundation of the Roman Empire, the city occupied the centre of the stage, dominating the country. During the Middle Ages, the country got the upper hand and kept it until the modern industrial era caused people to seek the towns and increased urban wealth and power in the commercial world by leaps and bounds. At the dawn of this era, wherever there was any sort of representative government, the rural communities controlled it, for the towns were small and not influential. As they grew in population and wealth they naturally demanded a larger share in national affairs and more local autonomy. The country districts naturally were reluctant to grant either; and as they controlled the law-making power and the machinery for changing the constitution, they had their way. In England, the landed gentry and the "rotten boroughs" fought off all serious inroads into their power until the Reform Acts of 1832-5 were passed, and then a readjustment was achieved only through a revolution, although a peaceable one. On the Continent, the growing towns did not secure their fair share of influence until later. In certain countries they have not yet obtained it, and in the United States there are as extreme instances of high-handed domination of municipal affairs by country districts as existed in the 19th century anywhere. Of course, since cities grow so much more rapidly than the country, any system which apportions political power justly for the moment, must soon become obsolete. It is not this incidental injustice to which I refer, but to the deliberate refusal to give cities their fair representation in State affairs and to the constant intermeddling in matters which are purely local.
Rural Domination in the United States.
Only a few instances need be cited. In Connecticut, the State has been so gerrymandered that seven per cent of the population—rural districts—elect a majority to the House of Representatives. The 11 large manufacturing towns, containing one half of the population of the State, have 22 votes as compared with 233 votes held by the other half, the rural half of the State. No reapportionment in the House has been made since 1876, nor in the Senate since 1827. Even the moderate changes suggested by the constitutional convention of 1902, which still kept control in the hands of a few decaying, "rotten" rural districts, failed of adoption. In Rhode Island it is the same, and it is suggestive to note that these two commonwealths, among the oldest and most Puritanical of the original thirteen, are the most corrupt, depraved and debauched in political matters. This can not continue forever. The cities may not obtain the full share to which their population would entitle them, but they will compel the country to yield in the long run. The justice and equity of their demands must be recognized.
Home Rule for Cities.
The other half of the problem of the relation of city and State concerns the intrusion of the State into purely local matters, and here again history shows that this interference has been carried at times to the farthest extreme. The dispute between the king and the rural gentry was going on when the towns began to increase in wealth and population. The country had secured some degree of local autonomy, and its representatives had gotten some control over the lawmaking authority. They objected to granting the towns a distinct local government, or, where this was done, insisted that the central government should have constant supervision. On the Continent, the general trend was to give the cities residuary powers, that is, to permit them to do anything which was not prohibited, but through the enactment of such laws, their powers were considerably curtailed. England started with frequent central interference in local matters, usually legislative and judicial, resulting in misgovernment, corruption and decreased efficiency m central administration. The report of the Commission on Municipal Corporations for 1835, reads like a description of recent American conditions. The Continent started with greater liberty, subject to administrative supervision, which was adopted in England in 1834 and since has. been extended and substituted for legislative interference, which worked so badly. Thus, insular and continental Europe have been approaching the same goal, that is, a general grant of power and form of government, with local autonomy, subject to central administrative control, such as the approval of municipal loans and certain ordinances by the Local Government Board, the audit of accounts by the same authority and the inspection of police departments by the inspectors of the Secretary of State.
State Interference in the United States.
The experience of the United States shows the same tendency; and although no State has gone so far as England, France or Prussia, a beginning has been made. A brief outline must suffice, The first city charters, whether from the English crown, the colonial authorities or the early State legislatures, defined in few words the powers, duties and form of government. Particular attention was paid to financial powers and methods of selecting officials. The author- icy granting the charter frequently controlled these with a strong hand. For example, annual acts authorizing New York city to assess taxes were necessary down to 1874. The mayor was appointed by the governor until 1821. Up to the middle of the century, ordinances remained in force only for a limited time (three months to three years) unless approved by the colonial or State authorities. Boston did not receive a city charter until 1822. As the cities increased in size and wealth, a more elaborate system of government was necessary, and the States undertook to regulate in detail every minor as well as every major point. These provisions needed alteration from time to time, and the only recourse was to special acts of the legislature, which grew rapidly in number and scope. The distrust of city governments, due to the corruption and inefficiency so prevalent after the middle of the century, was a contributing cause, for the restriction of functions and the removal of discretionary power was thought to be a method of remedying the prevalent evils. Even the reformers themselves fled to the State capitols for legislation in preference to fighting out the battle locally.
Wherever these conditions existed, there appeared a mass of special legislation. In the l0 years from 1880 to 1889, the Fassett Legislative Committee reported that 1,284 acts were passed by the New York State legislature affecting the government of cities; nearly one half related to the three cities now combined in Greater New York. Other States show equally bad conditions. Legislatures have constantly interfered to the extent of abolishing or creating offices, altering salaries, ordering streets to be paved, forcing the city to pay claims which were groundless, compelling the construction of unnecessary buildings, etc. The evils of State interference are important. Responsibility cannot be fixed; or if it is traced to the State legislature, this body cannot be reached, for only a small proportion of its members is elected in the city concerned. Indifference is encouraged, and city affairs are left to those who make profit from governmental prerogatives. Due consideration cannot be given to local matters, and State legislators are not sufficiently acquainted with the needs of localities, other than their own, to act intelligently. Questions are decided by log-rolling and personal favor, or a city's interests are made the football of State politics. No continuity is possible in municipal policy. The State, too, suffers, for matters of general interest often are sidetracked to let pass some little bill in which a constituent of Senator --- is personally (and often financially) interested. These injurious effects have been recognized for many years, and various remedies have been tried or suggested. The one most frequently adopted is the enactment of constitutional provisions prohibiting special legislation upon municipal matters. This method by itself has not been effective, for the courts have so interpreted "special legislation" and "municipal matters" that State interference has often continued uninterrupted. (Vide court decisions in Ohio prior to 1902.) The difficulty has been that each locality has peculiar needs and that no charter which goes into great detail will suit all cities; neither will it continue to be satisfactory without amendment for any length of time. Further, the State must have some sort of control over local governments; they cannot be permitted to become wholly independent; the State must supervise all matters other than those of mere local interest. But the field of local affairs has not clearly been delimited, and as long as this is the case there must be confusion and bad administration.
The best results have been attained where there is a general act of incorporation for all cities (or all cities of the same general size), or if there be a charter for each city, where it is general in character, the minor details being left to the city to determine, and to be altered locally as conditions change. There should be central administrative supervision instead of legislative interference, and although great progress has not been made in this direction in the United States, it has been tried sufficiently to show clearly that it would be as successful here as it has been in Europe. Such a system would improve the character of our laws by enabling legislators to give more attention to State matters, would fix responsibility for inefficiency, would arouse interest in local affairs by placing the fate of the city in its own hands, would tend to separate State from local politics and leave each to be settled upon its own merits, and would refer administrative questions to administrative departments with their staff of experts and abundant experience whereby to reach a wise decision. Just where the line is to be drawn between local and State matters is a difficult problem, and there is a strong tendency toward the centralization of certain functions, such as education and poor relief. But so far as these matters have been transferred to the State with beneficial results, it has been where there is no important local benefit, where there is not a great diversity of opinion among localities, where there is unity as to the methods to be adopted, and where the function is general and not limited to a few localities. Until these stages are reached, the State should control, but not administer, and the extent of this control should vary with the State's interest. In no case is it pardonable for the State regularly to appoint local officers. If the function is a local function and if the expense is borne locally, the State should not interfere, except possibly to remove an officer who has been proved to be guilty of malfeasance, or to appoint when a locality refuses to perform the duties imposed by the State. The trouble has been that the municipality is an agent of the State and also the means of satisfying local needs. Hence, it is necessary to determine whether a function is local or State, or partly local and partly State, and to frame the proper system of supervision or control accordingly. This brings us to a consideration of the scope of municipal activity as recognized by practice.
From the legal standpoint, the municipality in Great Britain and America can do only what it is authorized to do by the central government, and grants of powers are strictly construed. In Prussia and France, and quite generally upon the continent of Europe, the municipalities have residuary powers. In law the difference is not so great as one might expect from the divergence in theory, and when comparison is made between actual operations, instead of the powers which may be exercised, England and Germany stand side by side. In these two countries, the local governments have a greater range of activities than in any other countries in the world. Beginning with the protection of life and property, the function most generally performed by municipal governments, it is found that in all progressive countries, there are well equipped police, fire, health and judicial departments. These are not universally under the complete control of the municipal authorities, for in some cities, generally national capitals (for example. London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna), the police force is wholly administered by the central government. In several American cities (for example, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Boston), the police authorities are appointed by the State. In practically all countries except the United States, the central governments supervise local police administration on the ground that the preservation of life and property is not of mere local interest but concerns the whole country. The same is true of the local judiciary, and to a less extent of fire and health, State supervision in the latter cases being much less extensive than in police and judicial administration.
The care of the dependent and delinquent classes is a recognized governmental function in all progressive countries, but the extent of municipal activity varies greatly. In Great Britain, the poor-law authorities are entirely independent of the town governments. Generally in the United States, especially in the smaller cities, poor-relief is granted by the county authorities, and subsidies to private institutions are made by most of the large cities. In France, Germany and the other principal countries of Europe, the cities generally have control, subject to supervision by the central governments. Everywhere municipal activity is supplemented by private and ecclesiastical charity, especially in the case of homes for dependent children and hospitals. German cities show the greatest amount of municipal action in this direction and English cities the least. The insane, owing to the comparatively small number in each locality and the economy of large asylums, are generally cared for by other than municipal authorities—State, department, or provincial authorities, as the case may be. For persons who are near the border line between dependence and self-support, there are many instances of municipal lodging-houses, either free or charging a small fee, and labor bureaus to provide employment for the unemployed. These are far more common in Europe than in the United States. A few cities have gone so far as to establish schemes for employment insurance and to rent land in small allotments to the poorer classes for truck farms.
Educational facilities are also generally under municipal control, but central supervision is usually more thorough and far-reaching than in the case of charity administration. Since the recent act in England abolishing the school boards was passed, elementary education almost everywhere is a municipal function. Secondary education is more generally left to private or church management, except in the United States where it has been municipalized, or in Germany where it belongs frequently to higher governmental authorities. As one goes higher and higher in educational work, the activity of city governments decreases. In recent years, the broadening conception of education has introduced trade schools, but there are few of these under municipal control in the United States, while in Europe they are very common, although in the smaller countries particularly, the central government often contributes to their support. Public libraries are more common in America than elsewhere. In Europe there are fewer private donations. The public treasury bears most of the burden, and there is hardly a town of importance that does not have a municipal library. On the Continent they are mostly scholars' libraries which are not frequented by the general public, as is so generally the case in the United States. Municipal museums of art and science are more common in Europe and are visited by large numbers. Theatres and opera houses are also frequently maintained by foreign cities, but of course they are not free like museums and libraries. The prices charged, however, are often very low. American eities sometimes provide concerts for the public in the parks, but there is no instance to my knoledge of a municipal theatre or opera house in the United States.
In the matter of parks, American cities, as a rule, excel all others, but Paris is the most favored city of all. Including the large parks of Versailles and Fountainebleau, nearly 200,000 acres within a short distance of the city, and 20,000 acres can be reached in an afternoon excursion. In foreign cities, one more frequently finds parks under private or national control than in the United States, and this is particularly true of botanical and zoological gardens, which are parks in many ways. The movement for small parks and playgrounds in densely populated districts is growing rapidly. German cities lead, but American and British cities have been more active in recent years. Municipalities have also provided facilities for football, baseball, polo, ice skating, tennis, horse racing, cricket, bicycling, bowling, target shooting, lacrosse, dancing, bull fighting and the many other forms of amusement peculiar to each country. There are also instances of recreation piers, music pavilions, school gymnasiums, race tracks, etc., administered by cities. Public baths—plunge, spray, shower, tub and sometimes Russian, Turkish and medicinal as well as river and harbor baths—have been maintained by municipalities for decades, but the great increase has come within the last 20 years. Great Britain and Germany head the list, the United States consorting with Russia, Italy, and Austria at the foot. It is to be recalled, however, that the need, great as it is, for public baths in the United States, is relatively less than in Europe where so few bath-rooms are to be found in private houses and apartments. The first municipal indoor bath in New York city was opened about two years ago.
Other instances of the democratization of city governments are to be seen in the reconstruction of slum districts, the condemnation of old rookeries, the laying out of new streets and the rebuilding of the remaining areas. Here again European cities have gone farthest. The gigantic schemes undertaken by Glasgow, Birmingham, London, and Paris show what excellent results can be accomplished, and in many instances the increased value of the land has paid a large portion (in a few cases, all) of the cost of the scheme. American cities, because of their limited powers in this regard, have not been able to carry out such large schemes or finance them so successfully. Usually a portion of the expense of laying out new streets or widening old ones is assessed upon the property benefited, and the city is recouped in part. The care of bridges and streets—paving, cleaning and repairing—is almost everywhere a municipal function, and tolls are rapidly being abolished on bridges as they disappeared from roads earlier. Sewerage systems, which have come to be considered indispensable in progressive American towns, are not so common in Europe, especially outside of the large cities, and a number of these (St. Petersburg and Moscow, for example), do not have anything that approaches a system. Conditions in the smaller cities and in the less progressive countries are most primitive. Garbage and refuse disposal is still less a municipal function, but as in the case of sewage, no progressive city of any size is considered up-to-date which does not do something either directly or indirectly. Many cities do not undertake to perform the work by direct labor, but let the contract to a private corporation. The tendency, however, is toward day labor rather than the contract system.
The functions over which there is most debate as to the propriety of municipal action, are those which may be termed industrial functions, that is, those in which the municipality acts less as a governmental and more as a private corporation. The oldest instance is the ownership of real estate. Many of the European cities own large estates (Berlin possesses nearly 40 square miles and Vienna receives upward of $2,000,000 annually), and in some instances the income constitutes a large proportion of the total revenue—40, 50 or 60 per cent. American cities have squandered their patrimony and now own little. New York city owned 1,500 acres on Manhattan Island as late as 1844, but soon sold it for little. Markets, cemeteries and abattoirs are usually under municipal control in Europe and not infrequently in the United States. The object is not so much profit as the protection of the health and well-being of the city. For the same reason waterworks have been operated by municipalities for generations, and the number is constantly on the increase. Municipal operation is almost universal in Germany, and exists probably in fully one half of the cities of France which have plants. In Great Britain and the United States, about two thirds of the cities over 10,000 population have municipal systems, and the supply is better and more abundant than in other countries. The municipalization of lighting plants has not been carried so far. It is advocated on economic grounds and for reasons of political expediency rather than because of the direct effect upon the health and well-being of a community. Here again Germany leads, municipal gas plants existing in four fifths of the larger towns. Great Britain is a close second; one half of the cities over 50,000 and over one third of all the towns having gasworks at all operate their own plants. In other countries private operation holds sway, although there are many instances of municipal operation. The United States has only 20 municipal plants, and in a few other instances they are jointly owned or there are also private companies.
Electric lighting is a later development than gas, and the greater extent of municipal operation reflects the strong tendency in this direction. Towns have often been able to build their own plants without buying out a private company at exorbitant prices, which was frequently necessary in the case of gas lighting, where grants were made to private companies before municipal operation was generally considered as a wise course to pursue. Municipal operation is most common in Great Britain, where only one third of the undertakings are in private hands. In Prussia about one half of the more important cities have municipal plants. Outside of Germany there are many municipal plants scattered throughout Europe, but the number of private companies is very much larger. There are many in the United States also, the number being 278 in 1902, but in nearly one third of these places there were also private companies. The proportion is larger among small towns, where electricity has only recently been introduced, than among the large cities.
The municipalization of transportation facilities, other than streets and bridges, is a still more recent movement. Harbor improvements, docks and quays are quite commonly under municipal administration, but sometimes the central government has jurisdiction. There are a few instances of municipal ferries. Street railways have also been municipalized, there being instances of municipal ownership without municipal operation and also complete municipal management. The former was the earlier form and until recently was generally adopted by British cities, but now it is giving way to public operation, and the mileage of municipal undertakings considerably exceeds that belonging to companies. In other countries municipalization has not gone so far, the number of instances being small but on the increase. Nearly every country has a few instances of public ownership or operation, except the United States, where there is only one of little importance in Grand Junction, Colo. Two American cities, New York and Boston, own rapid transit subways, and their example will probably be followed in other directions.
Another important function in central and western Europe is the municipal pawn shop (see Mont de Piéte) in nearly all of the larger and many of the smaller cities, except in Great Britain, where no steps have yet been taken in this direction. In the United States, it is also left to private action, subject to regulation through laws and ordinances. Municipal savings banks are a natural outgrowth of municipal pawn shops. They are very numerous in Germany, where there are no postal savings banks, probably aggregating 1,500 in number. In France, Austria and Italy they are almost as numerous, but are more scattered in the other continental countries. Great Britain and the United States have none. A number of Russian cities have commercial banks, receiving deposits, giving credit, and in other ways doing a genuine banking business. This course has not been followed elsewhere so far as I can learn.
There are sporadic instances of other functions performed by city governments. Many cities virtually insure their own buildings by refusing to take out policies in private companies, but a few have gone further and have insured the property belonging to private individuals. Many English towns maintain laundries where the poor may bring their clothes, wash, iron and dry them for a small fee. Municipal telephones are becoming common in Europe. Tenements and single houses have been erected by many British towns for the working classes, replacing unsanitary dwellings. Certain cities manage restaurants, own interurban steam railroads, irrigation systems, stone quarries, brick yards, cold storage warehouses, oyster beds, fisheries, printing plants, lotteries, newspapers, undertaking establishments, etc.
Trend of Municipal Activity:
If one were to compare present with past municipal activity, he would find that great changes have been made. Certain functions have been lopped off and many new ones added. International affairs, for example, are now administered by the central governments; the prevention of fires is no longer an individual matter but dealt with collectively through city administrations. Upon the whole, there has been a great increase, for the new functions are far more numerous and comprehensive than those which have ceased to be municipal. The general trend is toward (1) the transfer to other authorities of functions of general as distinguished from local interest, which tend to increase as the country becomes more thickly settled; (2) the centralization of matters in the administration of which uniformity is possible and essential, and economy by consolidation important; (3) the multiplication of regulations dealing with the relations of man to man, because the individual cannot protect himself and because he should not be allowed either to impose upon the less fortunate or to remedy any injustice in his own way; (4) the increase of constructive action as distinguished from repressive measures, which is made possible by the concentration of population and has become necessary because of the conditions which great density has produced; (5) the taking over from private hands of functions which have become monopolistic and yet are of such vital concern to the whole city as to demand collective rather than individual management. In no country has there developed a fixed rule for determining whether a function should be undertaken by the municipality. None is feasible, for local conditions must decide, and these vary so greatly that it is folly to insist that municipalities shall or shall not adopt a certain course, because it apparently conflicts with some à priori definition of "natural rights" or a preconceived idea of the proper sphere of government.
Having considered what is the position of the city in law and practice, its governmental organization demands attention. As in all governments, provision is made for expression of the popular will and the execution of its edicts. In practice an official may have something to do with each and this often leads to confusion and misgovernment, for where the choice of an administrative officer is determined by his personal opinion upon matters which do not come directly under his jurisdiction, the results cannot but be disastrous. Yet, such will be the case as long as the sphere of the city is not clearly delimited and there is no adequate means for the enactment of laws which represent the will of the city, as is the case in most American cities at the present time. The first steps in the expression of the popular will are the organization of parties, the making of nominations and the election of officials. These subjects are discussed elsewhere and need not be elaborated here, except to note that the conditions of city life make necessary the adoption of methods in urban different from those in rural districts, as for example, personal registration in cities and proxy registration in the country.
The number and character of offices to be filled are also quite different in cities. There is always a local legislative body of some sort, except in a few instances where the city is administered by higher authorities, as in Washington, D. C., where the citizens do not vote at all. These legislative bodies vary greatly in every respect. In some cities, there are two chambers; in others, only one. The consensus of opinion in Europe favors a unicameral council. There are not many truly bicameral legislatures, and where two bodies do exist. it usually will be found that one is more of a consulting body for the administrative officials than a legislature. A number of American cities have two bodies, but experience does not approve the plan. New York city has a board of estimate and apportionment and a board of aldermen, but the latter has proved so unsatisfactory that its powers have been reduced until it is only the shadow of its former self.
This tendency is almost universal in the United States, and what functions the State legislature has not assumed have frequently been transferred to the administrative departments and to the mayor, who has come to be the central figure. There are exceptions, however, and the city which most nearly resembles foreign cities with their important local legislatures is Chicago, where the council is unicameral and possessed of considerable power, even in administration as well as legislation. It is suggestive to note that Chicago has probably escaped with as little special legislation as any city and that it is organized under a general State law, which is a simple, brief, condensed statement of municipal organization and powers. Where there is a council of any importance, by whatever name it may be called, it usually is empowered., subject to such statutory limitations as exist, to regulate its own organization and procedure, to enact local ordinances, to issue franchises, to control the public property, to levy taxes, to borrow money, to apportion expenditures, and less generally to appoint and remove the chief administrative officials (council committees in England), to act as a judicial body, and ex-officio to perform many minor duties. The number of members of the council varies greatly, European bodies being generally larger than American. The London County Council has 137 members, the Budapest Council 400, the New York Board of Estimate and Apportionment only 8, Chicago 70. The term of office ranges generally from one to four years, but in certain instances as high as six and nine years (not in United States). In some countries, the whole council retires at once; in others only one half, one third or one fifth go out at the same time. Where the council committees have close oversight over administrative functions, some continuity is very essential. Of course, it often happens, especially in European countries, but not infrequently in the United States, that an efficient councillor is re-elected for several times—a custom that produces very beneficial results. The systems of representation are also various. America, England, and Germany have followed the district plan, each ward electing not more than one member at a time. In other continental countries, the council is elected on a general ticket, or each district elects a considerable number of members. Minority or proportional representation is often provided for under the general ticket plan, either by cumulative or limited voting. In Prussia, Austria, Japan and some other countries, the voters are divided into three classes, the total of the taxes paid by the voters in each class being one third of the total amount collected. Each class elects one third of the municipal council, from which it is evident that the large taxpayers have a much greater influence than the small taxpayers. The qualifications for members of the council are generally less stringent in the United States than those of voters, for an alderman need not live in the district from which he is elected, although in practice, it is seldom that he does not. In foreign countries and in a number of American cities, they are more stringent, the holding of property or the payment of a tax being a prerequisite. Obligatory unpaid service is common abroad, but some sort of a salary, although as low as $1 per session, is usually paid in American cities, and compulsory service has ceased to obtain.
In the United States both legislative and administrative functions are possessed by the mayor. He very frequently, although not universally, has the veto power and sometimes presides over the council and appoints the committees. His principal powers are executive, however, and as the head of the administrative service he exercises powers that make him by far the most important person in the city government. He usually appoints and frequently may remove at will the principal officials, except the few that are elected, and consequently determines to a great extent what their policies shall be. The tendency is toward an increase of these powers; in fact, that has been the trend since the first of the 19th century. As the council has declined, the mayor has grown stronger. The method of selection, with a few exceptions, is by popular vote. Salaries range from $15,000 in New York down to small amounts in the less important cities. There are very few over $5,000 per year. Terms of office vary from one to five years, the usual length being two years in the larger cities, with one year becoming more common as the size of the city decreases. In practice, a re-election is not uncommon, but it is rarely that a man serves more than two terms.
The situation is entirely different in England. The office of mayor is one of honor and dignity but possessed of few powers. He is a member and presiding officer of the council, but has no veto power and appoints no officials except when he happens to be a member of a committee, but even then he has no more power than any other member. He is appointed by the council annually and very frequently does not succeed himself. His heavy expenses for social functions are only partially reimbursed by appropriations voted for this purpose, and hence only well-to-do men can afford to accept the honor. The one official who most nearly resembles the American mayor is the town clerk, but he is appointed by the council, receives a large salary (for England), has a permanent tenure, and does not appoint the administrative officials. Whatever of unity and harmony there is he produces, and it is his duty to keep in touch with everything. But the real administrative work of the departments is conducted by superintendents selected and directed by the committees of the council, among whom the activities of the city have been apportioned. These committees must, of course, do as commanded by the whole council, but they have great freedom and they are the administrative heads of the city, as well as part and parcel of the legislative body. It is evident that the English system contains no official who can be compared with the mayor in the United States.
In France, the maire more nearly resembles his American contemporary. He is a member of the council and its presiding officer, but has no veto. He prepares the provisional budget and has full power over the administration. He appoints most of the salaried officials, and may remove them. He controls the property of the city, directs public works, supervises expenditures, etc. As agent of the central government he has charge of the police and oversees the faithful execution of the national laws. He is elected, as in England, by the council, but is responsible to the central government rather than to the city. His term of office is four years.
The Prussian bürgermeister is not a member of the elective council, but of the board of magistrates—a sort of executive council which initiates legislation and perfects local ordinances. He does not directly appoint the other administrative officials, but he has considerable influence in this direction, being the head of the board of magistrates, which directs and controls all departments. Tenure of office is very long; the appointment is ordinarily for 12 years and sometimes for life. Burgomasters have professional training for administration, a life occupation, and are well paid considering the salaries usually given in Germany. Promotions from a small to a larger city are common.
From this brief outline it is evident that the administrative service in France and the United States generally, is under a single head—the mayor; in Germany, under a special body—the magistrates; and in England, under the council committees. All are elected or appointed by the council and hence more or less subject to its control, except the American mayor who is elected by the people and hence wholly independent. In the United States certain of the department heads are commonly elected, such as the board of education, comptroller and treasurer (finance), assessors and sometimes others. In some cities, the council elects a considerable number; in others the appointments of the mayor must be confirmed by the council; but the trend is toward few elective officers and unrestricted power in the hands of the mayor of appointment and removal. Foreign experience points in the same direction, for the French maire, the English council committees and the Prussian magistrates appoint without confirmation of the council. The power of removal is not much considered abroad, for the salaried officials are experts and hold office continuously. The number of departments and the allotment of functions vary greatly from city to city. In Europe these matters are generally left to the convenience of each town; in the United States the charter often fixes them arbitrarily. The relative merits of a single head or a board of commissioners have long been discussed. The drift in the United States is toward a single head, although schools, parks, police and public works are still generally managed by boards. In England the board system is practically universal, but the council committees usually leave to the salaried and permanent head all questions save those of general policy—a very wise course. In Germany the joint committees of councilmen and magistrates are mainly advisory bodies, much more so than the committees in England. In France the single commission system is universal. Thus, the United States is the only country that clings to boards of salaried administrative officials as department heads, and here they are on the wane. Subordinate officials are invariably appointed by the heads of the departments, who have much more discretion in Europe than America where civil service rules are being widely introduced and extended. In New York city, for example, all of the city positions are included in the classified service, except the most important, those of a confidential or fiduciary character, and those requiring only manual labor. Even the last named are subject to certain examinations. In England, no such system exists in the municipal service. The spoils idea has not gotten a foothold, and it has not been necessary, therefore, to tie the hands of city officials with civil service rules. German and French cities have competitive examinations, but these are merely means to sift out the unfit, to ascertain the half dozen or dozen applicants best fitted for the position. Considerable freedom is permitted in the final choice. The public opposition to spoils is a far greater restraining force than civil service regulations.
The Municipal Problem.
Much as Americans dislike to admit it, there is no escape from the fact that European cities generally are better governed than those in the United States; there is greater efficiency, and much less dishonesty and corruption abroad. This is so well recognized that we have a distinct "rmunicipal problem," peculiar to American cities and unknown beyond the Atlantic, having a voluminous literature of its own. In a word, the problem is: How may honesty and efficiency be secured and retained in municipal affairs? The solutions that have been suggested are many. In the first place, governmental organization has been criticized, and it has been urged that new charters should be secured. This has seemed so reasonable that charter tinkering has been the favorite occupation of the reformers in every city, but no deep and far-reaching regeneration has followed. Every known system has been tried, without achieving the desired result. Doubtless the best system helps to secure honesty and efficiency, and the highest results cannot be attained without it, but it is not the most important element. The cities with the best charters have not been the best governed. Another factor, which has been noted by many, is State interference in local matters. This has contributed to the difficulty of the situation undoubtedly, and there is the experience of England to prove that when local affairs are left to the municipality to administer and State affairs to the central government, the efficiency of each is greatly increased. But the few American cities that have been free from State interference are not so much better than the rest as to show that here is the solution of the problem. The foreign elements in our populations have also come in for a share of the blame, It is pointed out that whereas in many American cities the proportion of foreign born persons ranges from 30 to 40 per cent, in foreign cities the number of persons born outside of the country in which they reside very seldom exceeds 5 per cent and usually ranges from 2 to 4 per cent. The fact that the foreigners who throng our cities are ignorant of our institutions and unfitted for the duties of citizenship in a democracy is made the basis for an appeal for restricted suffrage and immigration as a means of purifying politics. But if this is the fundamental difficulty, why is it that those cities where the people are almost wholly Anglo-Saxon descent, are as badly governed as any? It must be admitted, however, that the mixture of races with conflicting ideas upon all questions makes it almost impossible to bring them to agree upon the issue in an election and to get an expression of opinion upon one issue. To tell what is the result of an election under such conditions is impossible. The policy of imposing upon a city a statute which is directly contrary to the will of the people adds to the confusion and forces the voters to consider the iniquity of such measures and to disregard the question of municipal honesty and efficiency, often apparently opposing an administration which gives them both efficiency and honesty. There are still other students of municipal government who urge proportional representation, direct legislation, ballot reform, nominations by the people, the organization of local political parties, or restriction of suffrage to taxpayers, etc., as the principal means of reform. Of late public operation of municipal monopolies has received much attention, and when one considers the great amount of corruption due to bribery of city officials connected with the granting of franchises, he is almost forced to the conclusion that municipalization would be preferable, even with all the "graft" which might follow.
Admitting that all these factors may contribute something and that no one contributes all, is it probable that together they furnish the explanation and point the way to relief? Is there no other important factor? I cannot but believe that the fundamental difficulty lies deeper. It is very suggestive to note that the epochs of high tide in municipal corruption almost invariably and with exactness coincide with the periods of greatest dishonesty and swindling in private finance. The lid has recently been taken off of business and politics, and the stench arising from each has been equally nauseating. In the period of gigantic corruption in business, following the Civil War, honesty seemed a lost virtue in many quarters. This was coincident with the reign of the Tweed Ring in New York, the Gas Ring in Philadelphia, etc. And if other illustrations are needed, continue the excursion prior to the Civil War; the same coincidence will appear. It is foolishness to expect that men have one conscience for business and another for politics, which are put on and off as occasion requires. The same standards and the same practices, if analyzed carefully, will be found to obtain in business and in politics. Reformers have urged that municipal administration is business not government and should be conducted as business. That is exactly the position of the corruptionist. Municipal administration is business; it has been business; it is conducted upon the same principles as business; and as long as it is and as long as business is corrupt, government will be corrupt. What are wanted are a regenerated civic consciousness, higher standards of honesty and morality, and genuine personal integrity. Other factors will aid in the realization of the ideal city, but cannot go far and any advance will be only transitory, unless individual standards are improved.
For references to the literature upon municipal affairs, see Brooks' 'Bibliography on Municipal Problems and City Conditions,' published by the Reform Club, New York. See also the following topics in this encyclopædia: Charities, Civil Service, Education, Elections, Finance, Garbage Disposal, Lighting, Municipal Ownership, Municipal Accounting, Proportional Representation, Sanitation, Sewage Disposal, American Street Railways, Water Supply, Tenement House Reform.
- Milo Roy Maltbie, :Asst. Sec'y Art Commission of the City of New York, formerly Editor of 'Municipal Affairs.'