The New International Encyclopædia/Municipal Government
MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT. The administration of the affairs of a city, town, borough, village, or other minor civil division of a State, but generally restricted to the government of pure municipal corporations as opposed to quasi municipal corporations, such as counties, townships, and school districts. Municipal government seldom reaches its fullest development outside of the larger cities, but numerous municipal activities are often undertaken in progressive urban communities of only a few thousand inhabitants. Since the municipality is the creature of the State, it follows that its form of government, its various activities, and its powers are not only derived from the State, but are also subject to alteration or repeal at its will. The municipality has a direct and far more intimate relation with those subject to its government than does the State, supplying many wants common to its inhabitants, and performing or supervising the performance of many services which outside of the municipality are left to private enterprise.
In some of these respects, as in the exercise of the police power, the care of the public health, the administration of charity, and the administration of local justice, the municipality is actually the agent of the State, and discharges duties of interest to the State at large; in others, as in the furnishing of water or light, the State permits the community as a whole to act as a local organization for the satisfaction of purely local needs of interest to the community only. The very remarkable growth of the urban population during the last half century has greatly increased the importance of municipal government, and at the same time multiplied its difficulties. About three-fourths of the population of England and Scotland now live under conditions of urban life, while in the older parts of the United States the town dwellers outnumber the country dwellers. For the origin and nature of the legal powers of municipalities, see Municipality; see also the general article Government. For the history, growth in population, and certain economic, social, and political phases, see City.
Municipal government may be considered under four main heads: (1) Functions; (2) organization; (3) finance; (4) public policy.
Municipal Functions. The functions of a municipality include all the public activities of the city, whether direct, such as laying out and maintaining streets, or indirect, such as regulating traffic and maintaining order on the public thoroughfares. These activities are many and complex, and frequently overlap, but they may be grouped as follows: (1) The so-called public utilities, which include ways and means of communication and transportation, together with the supply of light and water to the inhabitants; (2) disposal of wastes; (3) protection of life, health, and property; (4) charities and correction; (5) education; (6) recreation; (7) municipal housing. The provision of ways and means of communication and transportation is one of the first and most obvious functions of municipal government. Its basis is the public streets, upon the surface of which all land traffic moves, beneath which are placed pipes to bring in municipal supplies and to carry out wastes, and either above or below which are wires for transmitting messages. As an aid to the movement of street traffic, it falls within the duties of the municipal government either to provide street railways or to see that they are provided and properly operated by private enterprise. In many of the English and Scotch cities the street railways have been constructed and are owned by the municipality itself, although it is a common practice to lease them to a private company for operation. In the United States this is usually a function of private enterprise, subject to the supervision of the city. Where waterways are involved, bridges and perhaps ferries must be provided, and frequently docks, wharves, and harbors as well. Bridges are now almost always built at public expense, and are as free to all as the streets, but sometimes bridges are owned by private companies, and sometimes, but rarely in large municipalities, toll is charged for the use of the bridges. The construction and control of harbors is not a municipal function in the United States, and in other countries their care is generally a function of the national government. Municipal docks are far more common than municipal harbors. Where docks are required, they often are or may be an important source of revenue; but the first consideration should be to afford every facility for the speedy and cheap handling of goods and passengers. The relation of municipal government to the telephone and telegraph service is chiefly regulative, especially in the United States, and thus far extends but little beyond the police control of the electric wires involved.
One of the most important municipal services is the supply of water for household and industrial purposes, for fire protection, and for sewer and street flushing. The lighting service, like the water supply, is both for public and private use. The light furnished may be either in the form of gas or electricity. Almost everywhere at present the water and lighting supplies are municipal functions, although they may be intrusted to private companies. Municipal markets for the sale of meat and other food supplies are frequently maintained for the sake of both convenience and sanitation. The sanitary aspects of cattle markets, abattoirs, and slaughter houses are of great importance. Consequently, where markets are not provided, the municipal health authorities exercise, or should exercise, a rigid supervision over private markets, and also over the various foods prepared or exposed for sale therein. The supply of such articles as milk and ice to the inhabitants is left to private enterprise, but on sanitary grounds is usually subject to regulation by the municipal government.
Wastes. By far the greater part of the large quantity of water supplied to the modern municipality must be removed again in a more or less befouled condition. All American, many British, and the largest Continental cities have found water to be the best vehicle for removing excreta, and as a result we have the modern sewerage system, which carries away this dangerous waste together with the water otherwise befouled by domestic use. The surface drainage from roofs, yards, and streets may be removed with the sewage, or else in separate conduits. The food wastes of the kitchen and table, consisting of decomposable organic matter, and commonly known as garbage, require separate disposal; and the same is true of ashes, waste paper, and other rubbish. Street dirt must be collected and removed, and the streets must be sprinkled to keep down the dust which is inevitable even with the best sweeping. All these are municipal functions which cannot be left to private enterprise. Finally, the human dead must be considered under the general head of wastes, and cemeteries must be provided for burying or crematories for burning the bodies. Cemeteries are frequently, but crematories rarely, owned by municipalities. The other services included under the heading, in so far as they are performed with regularity and system, are almost invariably rendered by the municipality, either directly or by contractors at its expense and under its supervision.
Protection of Life, Health, and Property. The protective functions of a municipal character include the work of the police, the courts, the fire department, and the board of health, together with the building inspection service, and the provision of public baths, wash houses, and water closets. The charities and correction service includes poor relief and the maintenance of asylums and reformatories. The educational service embraces not only the work of the common schools preparatory to the college, but manual training, and sometimes technical education, night schools, vacation schools, libraries, and museums. The municipality in undertaking the work of elementary education and poor relief is acting as the agent of the State, and is subject to more or less central control so far as these activities are concerned. The recreation service includes the establishment and maintenance of parks, playgrounds, gymnasiums, together with the provision for public concerts and lectures. The three first named institutions might also be included under both education and health service, while concerts and lectures may be included under education as well as recreation. Municipal housing is practically unknown in America, but is a marked feature of municipal activity in Great Britain. It has arisen partly through the demolition of whole blocks of unsanitary houses, which seemed to make necessary a provision for rehousing the ejected tenants, and partly from a desire to afford municipal aid in the efforts being made by philanthropists to improve the home condition of the working classes. The houses built at municipal expense are generally designed to provide living places thoroughly sanitary in their construction and appointments for the poorest class of self-supporting wage-earners.
Organization. The successful administration of the many and varied activities just outlined demands a degree and character of organization resembling in some respects that of a large private corporation. In the government of States it is common to divide the functions of government as well as the officials who discharge them into three groups—the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. The same general plan might be followed in considering municipal government, but separation into these three branches is by no means so easy, on account of the greater overlapping of municipal functions. The judicial power, except as it is exercised by municipal mayors, is more a State than a municipal function, and will not be further considered, except to note the existence of municipal police courts for the prompt trial of persons arrested for misdemeanors or crimes. The legislative functions of municipal governments are exercised primarily by the council, and the executive, by various officers and boards, with the mayor as the chief executive officer. Some of the executive boards possess quasi-legislative powers, while others, such as boards of health, exercise both legislative and judicial functions. The mayor's duties are legislative, judicial, and executive. He often presides over the meetings of the council, casts the deciding vote in case of a tie, usually has the power to veto ordinances, appoints officials, supervises the affairs of the city, hears and passes upon charges involving possible dismissal of officials, and sometimes acts as a judge of municipal courts. In the United States the mayor is elected by popular vote, though formerly he was quite generally elected by the council; elsewhere he is commonly appointed either by the city council or by the central government. (See Mayor.) In extent of power the mayors of the United States rank first, and there is a strong tendency to increase their powers and responsibilities. In point of training the mayors of Germany take the lead: in that country the mayoralty is a profession, and a successful officer is promoted from one city to another and larger as his ability and reputation increase. In all countries the mayor is the chief representative of the city, but in Great Britain alone the office is mainly one of dignity and honor. In that country the mayor is a member of the council and presides over its meetings, but he does not possess the veto power. The importance of the mayor's office in the United States is largely due to the control which he exercises over legislation through his power of veto, and to his power of appointing and removing executive officers. The latter power is generally subject to approval by the council, but it is in freedom from this restriction that the growing importance of the office chiefly consists. The extension of the power of appointment is significant because it diminishes the number of officials elected by popular vote, as well as the number chosen by the council, and combined with the power of removal, which is coming to be generally granted, enables the mayor to shape municipal policy and to direct the manner in which that policy is carried out. The later municipal charters quite generally grant the mayor the power to appoint the various heads of departments, except the chief financial officer, who is usually elected by popular vote. Aside from the exercise of judicial power involved in the removal of officials for cause, mayors do not usually act as judges except in the United States and Great Britain, and in these countries their judicial functions are chiefly in the capacity of justices of the peace. In the larger cities of the United States this function is seldom exercised by the mayor, and in some sections it is entirely lacking; but it may still be found in force in Delaware, in the Southern States, Indiana, Iowa, and elsewhere. See Mayor.
The Council. The powers and duties of the city council vary greatly in the different countries of the world, and quite as much so in the several commonwealths of the United States, or even in the cities of a single State. Germany leads in the comprehensive control of its councils over municipal affairs, and Great Britain ranks next in this particular. The German councils control schools and charities, which in Great Britain are under two sets of quite independent authorities, but while the German councils are in some respects subject to the board of magistrates, including the head magistrate, the burgomaster or mayor, and while the latter has other important functions, the English council has full local control within its sphere. The French municipal councils, unlike those of Germany and Great Britain, have few or no administrative powers, their control being limited chiefly to the appropriation of money and questions of policy. In the United States the councils formerly closely resembled those of Great Britain, and frequently had control of charities and of other municipal activities, but one by one many of their powers have been taken from them and bestowed on the mayor or else on independent boards. Among these boards may be mentioned water, sewerage, street, park, fire, police, and health boards, or combinations of two or more of these into a single board. Again, single-headed departments, more or less independent of the council, have been created by municipal charters or by special legislation. The financial control of some of these new bodies has been left with the city council, at least to the extent of making or withholding appropriations, and borrowing money by means of bond issues. In Great Britain and the United States the councils are restricted to the exercise of those powers specifically or impliedly authorized by the State, and implied powers are seldom so construed as to warrant permanent loans, purchase of land, erection of buildings, or other public works. On the Continent of Europe grants of municipal authority are far more general and limitations specific, but the central government exercises a general control and supervision over the municipalities unknown in the United States, and rarely if ever practiced in Great Britain. In the latter country, however, the Local Government Board, in sanitary matters, and the Board of Trade, in the case of municipal enterprises which produce revenues, pass upon loans, and by their power of granting or refusing authority for these they exercise no little control over municipal councils. The council in the United States, particularly in small cities, is generally a single-chambered body, elected by districts, but there are numerous instances of a select council, or Upper House, the members of which are frequently elected by a larger constituency than those of the Lower House, or by the city as a whole, and sometimes serving for a longer term. In England the council sits as one body, but it is composed of councilors elected by the people and of aldermen chosen by the council, usually from its own membership. (See Great Britain.) In Continental Europe there usually is but one chamber of councilors, and frequently the members are elected on a general ticket. As a rule, the councils in European countries are far larger than those in the United States, containing from 50 to 130 members, and in one case, Budapest, 400 members. In the United States, even where two chambers exist, there are rarely over 50 to 150 members, but Philadelphia is a notable exception, with nearly 200 members in both branches. The tenure of municipal councilors is from one to four years in the United States; three years for councilors and six years for aldermen in Great Britain; four years in France and Spain; five years in Italy; six years in Austria, Prussia, Hungary, Holland, Belgium; and nine years in Bavaria. In most of the European countries provision is made for periodic renewal of the council. The usual rule is renewal by thirds or halves, annually, biennially, or triennially, according to the length of the term. The most universal legal qualification for councilmen, aside from age, is residence. In America councilmen must not only reside in the city which they represent, but, by written or unwritten law, within the district which elects them. In France any taxpayer is eligible, even though not a voter, provided the number of non-resident councilmen does not exceed one-fourth the whole. In England taxpayers residing within fifteen miles of the municipality may be elected for any district thereof. Property qualifications for a portion of the members of the council are required in European countries, but in a few cities, including Dresden and Leipzig, half of the membership must be from non-property-holders. In the United States property qualifications for membership in the council were formerly quite common, but are no longer required. In all countries the work of councils is largely done by committees, and this is particularly true of those countries where the council has large powers and duties, which doubtless accounts for the large bodies in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. In Chicago and in most small cities the presiding officer of the council is the mayor. In other large American cities there is usually a president of the council elected by the city at large. In Europe the council usually elects its own presiding officer. Generally speaking, members of municipal councils receive no salary and frequently service is compulsory. In a number of the large cities of the United States, however, members receive pay ranging from a small per diem allowance to $2000 a year, which is the amount paid to members of the New York Council.
Executive Boards and Officers. These range from the mayor and council committees to the more or less independent boards and commissions so common in the United States, and on down to minor officials acting under these officers. The number and variety of services which these boards and officials perform has been partly indicated in the enumeration of the city's functions. In cities where the council is supreme, the committees of that body exercise large executive powers. Great reliance, however, is placed on trained executive officers selected by such committees or by the council as a whole for the various departments of municipal activity. Outside of the United States such officials are seldom chosen by popular vote, but in this country it is not uncommon to choose many of these officers by popular election. Minor positions are, of course, filled by the board concerned or by the chief executive officer responsible for the work undertaken by the appointee, rather than by popular election or by the council. The town clerk is the most important official in an English municipal corporation. Besides his duties as recording officer of the council and general secretary of the municipality, he acts as legal adviser of the council and as custodian of records. His tenure of office is frequently for life, he receives a high salary, and he is a trained official much as is the mayor of a German city. The city clerk in the United States is never an officer of such training and importance. Generally he is simply a recording officer to the council, or perhaps a kind of mayor's assistant. Legal advice to the municipal authorities in the United States is given by an officer styled the corporation counsel, and suits are prosecuted and defended by a city attorney, although the two classes of service may be rendered by one man, and the names vary in different localities. The city engineer is everywhere a trained man, and municipal engineering has become a distinct branch of the engineering profession. In the large cities the legal and engineering work is so extensive and important as to require large staffs of experts. This is also the case in the financial department, using the latter term to embrace all the executive officers employed in assessing, collecting, and disbursing money, and in maintaining a check on collections and disbursements.
Finance. Under this head Ordinary Revenues include the proceeds of taxes, special assessments for benefits, like the frontage tax for street paving, and various licenses and fees. Extraordinary Revenue includes money from loans, bond issues, and trust funds or bequests. Some cities of Continental Europe receive no little revenue from landed property, and the cities of Great Britain and Germany, and a few in the United States, derive considerable revenue from municipal franchises. Where municipal ownership prevails in British cities effort is often made to turn into the common treasury a revenue for the reduction of the general tax rate. In the United States a portion of the revenue from water-works, and less frequently from municipal industries, is sometimes applied in a similar manner. The taxing power is generally limited to the council, the chief exceptions being the education and poor authorities in Great Britain, which have an independent power of taxation. In the United States the councils often have to raise large sums by taxation for independent boards, and also for the county and for the State. It is common for the independent boards to incur bonded indebtedness without consulting the council, but only as the authority, in general or specific terms, is granted by the State Legislature. The sub-departments under the general head of finance are tax assessors, who place a valuation on taxable property; a board of review or appeals from the rulings of the last-named officers; tax collectors; the treasurer, who receives money from the collectors; the disbursing officer or controller, who issues or approves warrants for the payment of bills and claims; and the auditing department. In some cities, particularly the smaller ones, the treasurer is also the disbursing officer, and the council instead of a controller may approve claims. The municipal budget, or the estimate of receipts and expenditures upon which the tax rate and appropriations are based, is prepared according to various methods. In general, the several departments make up their respective estimates, and these are amended by the mayor, or by a special board created for that purpose, and sent to the council for further amendment and final ratification.
City Charters. The municipality being a mere creature of the State, its area, powers, and form of government are laid down by the Legislature in the form of (1) a specific act or charter; (2) a given act for cities of a given class; or (3) a series of either general acts relating to groups of cities or to all municipal corporations; or (4) special legislation on any subject and at any time that suits the wishes of the Legislature. Strictly speaking, the first only is a city charter, but the other grants of power have the same general effect, except that 3 and 4 are successively more confusing and less satisfactory than 1 and 2. In the United States city charters may or may not be, as the Legislature sees fit, submitted to popular vote for approval. Frequently both charters and charter amendments are so submitted, and where general municipal corporation acts prevail the transition from one class to another is generally by popular vote, but it may follow from an increase in population. As a rule, voters of a municipality have some voice or influence in framing new or amending old charters, except perhaps where general legislation prevails. This participation goes so far in some cases as to permit the framing of the designed changes by an authorized charter commission or to the adoption of changes requested by the municipal officials. In Missouri, California, and Washington, charter-making is virtually under the control of the municipality, subject to more or less specific legislative restrictions. Far more commonly, the respective legislatures pass enabling acts, which may or may not be in the nature of charter amendments, and leave their adoption to the popular vote.
Other Municipal Problems. A comprehensive term used in discussions of municipal affairs is Municipal Reform. This is nothing more or less than an effort, to secure honest and efficient municipal government. The problem varies with each locality, and even changes in a given locality from year to year. The bane of municipal government is partisan politics. The remedy for bad municipal government, from whatever cause, invariably lies with the citizens and taxpayers, who are often too indifferent to their own interests, or at least to the public interest, to insist on good government. A decided reform in municipal affairs was effected in Scotland in 1833, and in England and Wales in 1835, as a result of agitation directed against incompetent and corrupt borough government. The reform acts of the year named were supplemented from time to time, and in 1882 a consolidated municipal corporations act was passed. In 1888 another act was passed, providing that cities and towns of more than 50,000 inhabitants should be administrative counties, and also creating a more unified government for Greater London, known as the London County Council. In 1900 this unification was carried still further, but only to the extent of reducing by consolidation into some fifteen borough governments a large number of minor authorities. In the United States the progress of municipal reform, as reflected by changed methods of administration, is difficult to trace. This is largely due to the many independent State legislatures controlling municipal affairs, to the great variations of practice within each State, and to the spasmodic efforts for reform. One of the notable steps in many States has been the adoption of constitutional amendments, from 1850 to 1880, prohibiting special acts of the Legislature which apply to a single municipality. Other great agencies of municipal reform in the United States have been the various local reform organizations, notable among which have lieen the good government clubs, and their federation into the National Municipal League. (See subhead Charters, above.) Other organizations whose annual proceedings are noted below (see Bibliography) have played an important part in municipal reform.
The need for Municipal Specialists becomes more and more imperative as the municipal activities increase in number and complexity. Mayors in Germany, city clerks in England, and city engineers in all countries are already a distinct professional class, stimulated by the prospect of advancement to more important cities as their abilities increase. Sanitary or health officers, professional accountants, superintendents of water supply and other public works are also rapidly gaining in professional ability, and public recognition of such ability is likewise increasing.
Bibliography. Shaw, Municipal Government in Great Britain (New York, 1895); id., Municipal Government in Continental Europe (New York, 1895); Goodnow, Municipal Home Rule (New York, 1892); id., Municipal Problems (New York, 1897); Wilcox, City Government (New York, 1897); Maltbie, English Local Government of To-Day (New York, 1897); Art and Life and Building and Decoration of Cities, by various authors (London, 1897); Eaton, Government of Municipalities (New York, 1899); Conkling, City Government in the United States (4th ed., New York, 1899); Weber, Growth of Cities (New York, 1899); A Municipal Programme (New York, 1900); Goodhue, Municipal Improvement (3d ed., New York, 1900); Parsons, The City for the People (Philadelphia, 1901); Fairlie, Municipal Administration (New York, 1901); Robinson, Improvement of Towns and Cities (New York, 1901); Brooks, Bibliography of Municipal Affairs and City Conditions (New York, 1901); Chapin, Municipal Sanitation in the United States (Providence, 1901); Baker, Municipal Engineering and Sanitation (New York, 1902); Zeublin, American Municipal Progress (New York, 1902); Baker, Municipal Year-Book (New York, 1901); Donald, Municipal Year-Book (British, London, 1902); Victorian Municipal Directory (Melbourne, 1901); Conferences for Good Government (Philadelphia, 1894, current); Annual Proceedings of the American Society of Municipal Improvement (New York); League of American Municipalities (Des Moines, Iowa); League of Civic Improvement (Springfield, Ohio); Legislation by States, a descriptive classified index (Albany, annually); Municipal Affairs (quarterly, New York, 1897, current); Municipal Engineering (monthly, Philadelphia, current); Municipal Journal and Engineer (monthly, New York, current); Municipal Journal (weekly, London, current); Engineering News (weekly, New York, current); Engineering Record (weekly, New York). Consult also the authorities referred to under the articles mentioned in cross references above. See Administrative Law; Bath-Houses, Municipal; Civil Service; Cremation of the Dead; National Education, Systems of; Electric Lighting; Engineer; Ferry; Finance; Fire Protection, Municipal; Garbage and Refuse Disposal; Gas, Illuminating; Great Britain; Prussia; France, etc.; Health, Boards of; Heating and Ventilation; Housing Problem; Municipal Debts; Municipal Ownership; Parks and Playgrounds; Pavement; Police; Recreation Piers; Sewage Disposal; Sewerage and Drainage; Smoke Nuisance; Special Assessment; Street; Subways; Tax; Telephone; Water Purification; Water-Works.