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Could the Council of Niagara Falls, which had voted on Nov. 3, 1914, to operate under one of the forms provided, change the title of Overseer of the Poor, as provided in the former charter, to Commissioner of Public Charities? The answer made by the Attorney General was partly compromised, from the standpoint of the present discussion, by the fact that he held poor relief to be a State function. Many of his statements along this line could easily be construed to forbid grants of power to cities which have been the practice of years. The crux of the opinion, however, was the contention that the Legislature must set definite limits to its grants and that, where it did not expressly repeal its own former laws, it could provide for their repeal only in so far as they might be found directly inconsistent with the stated terms of its new enactments.
The doubt which beset the act was finally allayed in Cleveland v. Watertown,' in which, four years after the passage of the act, the Court of Appeals flatly reversed the courts below in regard to the matter before it. The decision is of such interest in connection with the Legislature's power to put its laws at the mercy of ordinances that extended quotation will not be afield. Justice McLaughlin said of the Optional City Government Law:
" It is complete in itself and the forms of government provided for are also complete. Nothing remains to be
* In the face of these doubts, Niagara Falls was given the city-manager form of government (which it had elected under the optional law) by a special legislative charter of over one hundred pages, L. 1916, ch. 530, approved May 12. This provided, among other things, that (sec. 330)
The passage of this act shall not be deemed to take from the city any powers conferred by ch. 444 of L. of 1914." It was, therefore, comparatively obvious for the Court to hold in People ex rel. Shipston v. Thompson (1921), 187 N. Y. Supp., 395, aff'd 196 App. Div. 923, 187 N. Y. Supp. 949, aff'd without opinion 231 N. Y. 541, that the enactment of the legislative charter after the city had voted to accept plan “C” did not preclude it from voting later on the adoption of plan “F.” The proposed change did not succeed.
(1918) 222 N. Y. 159, rev'g 179 App. Div. 954, 166 N. Y. Supp. 286, which had aff’d. 99 Misc. 66, 165 N. Y. Supp. 305. Watertown was the third city to elect to operate under one of the plans provided, voting for "C" (city-manager form) on Nov. 2, 1915. The lower courts held that the unconstitutional parts were so intertwined in the act as to render the whole invalid.
done to make the act an existing law. (p. 165) * * * It is in legal effect a new charter which the city does not make, but which it accepts in place of the one it now has, and the only powers delegated are those relating to local self-government which the Legislature can grant if it sees fit to do so. The act does not, as claimed, permit the city to frame its own charter, but presents one to it to be accepted or not and defines, if accepted, the powers of the
governing officers” (p. 169). And, turning to the vexed question of the grant to the council of authority to re-allocate powers, to reshape the conditions governing their exercise, and to abolish offices, the Court seemed to endorse the notion that power is an essence which, unimpaired by changing shapes, can be poured from vessel to vessel, saying:
“ It is true that the section confers great power on the council to control and manage the city government, but this power does not authorize the council to add to or to take from the power already possessed by the city or to avoid the performance of any duty now imposed on it by law * * * Authority to distribute and to regulate the exercise of a power is not equivalent to an authority to
enlarge a power already existing ” (p. 168). Although this decision did not dispose of all the questions that inhere in conditional repeal, it seemed at least to clear the way for a method whereby the Legislature can strike a short-cut past detailed provisions of existing law. The decision, therefore, must be given an important place beside the precedents for conditional repeal which have here been discussed, in laying the basis for a parting analysis of the problem of simplifying the statutory sources of New York City government.
THE PROBLEM OF SIMPLIFICATION.
Introductory-Survey of Alternative Methods of Simplifying the
Introductory. The simplification of the statutory sources of New York City's government has asserted itself as an insistent problem throughout the preceding pages. It is time to draw together the threads of the discussion. An answer to the problem can best be indicated by surveying the several alternative methods whereby simplification might be essayed, and by recalling the lessons that can be drawn from experience with the devices already described.
A limitation must be borne in mind from the outset. It is idle to expect that a great city can be governed without a detailed body of written provisions in laws or in ordinances. The everyday work of city government touches property and persons at many points and in ways that give rise to lasting relationships not only between the city and private individuals but also between private individuals. Illustrations too obvious to mention are readily forthcoming from such fields of activity as street openings and assessments, on the one hand, and the administration of institutional and out-door relief, on the other. The provisions governing such affairs as these are in the main matters of administrative procedure; it is none the less important, however, that three requirements be satisfied. The provisions should be specific; they should be conveniently assembled; they should be stable enough to accumulate definite interpretations.
This three-fold need has undoubtedly been an influential factor in the development of the characteristic American practice of elaborate city charters. It does not follow, however, that the requirement of an express, assembled, and relatively stable status can be achieved only through legislative enactment. The provisions of the Greater New York charter regarding street openings, for example, have not been more immune from alteration than the locally enacted building and sanitary codes..
Survey of Alternative Methods of Simplifying the Statutory
Sources of New York City Government.
The simplification of the statutory sources of New York City's government, it is evident, involves two phases: (1) the form of the charter, in the narrower sense of the latter term; (2) the relationship between the charter and the pre-existing bodies of law applicable to the city. Actually the two phases of the problem are inseparable, and the second conditions the first. The charter, in the formal sense, may be shortened, but if it allows other special city laws to continue without provision for their subsequent modification locally, it remains in fact a long charter. Furthermore, if the charter seeks to adjust the relations between itself and the earlier bodies of law by means of broad clauses of uncertain application, the charter is in fact complicated, however simple its terms may appear. The form of the charter may be changed by the division of its provisions between a charter, proper, and an administrative code, but this device is chiefly significant as a method of giving the local authorities control over details hitherto fixed in state law. Alterations in the form of the charter are thus so dependent for their real effect upon the relation established between the charter and the earlier laws surrounding the city government that the possible changes in form are best revealed incidentally in an analysis of possible methods of disposing of old law. Unless attention is directed sharply to the latter, the simplification of the city's law can easily be confused with what is merely the simplification of the task of charter revision.
Charter revision, then, must provide for the disposition of the masses of pre-existing law. What are the alternatives? They are stated briefly in outline, as a prelude to their examination one by one.
(I) It is possible, in enacting a new charter, to employ the method used both in the original Greater New York Charter and in the Amendatory Act of 1901. This method is to repeal blanketfashion whatever in pre-existing law is or may later be found to be inconsistent with the charter or covered by it, and in the same sweeping way to continue the remainder. This method may be varied by accompanying the new charter with the specific repeal of numerous prior acts. But unless these specific repealers exhaust the earlier legislation, the blanket repealing and saving clauses just described will be indispensable.
(II) It is possible to make the charter a virtual consolidation of all the provisions of special law, old and new, that are deemed necessary to the operation of the city government, and, without qualification other than a general clause preservative of existing proprietary rights and perhaps the enumeration of certain specifically excepted acts, to repeal everything else. This method really comprises two alternatives, depending upon whether the charter is short or long.
(III) It is possible, in adopting a new charter, to apply some plan of conditional repeal to the special laws not embraced by the new charter itself. Three variations of the method are open:
(A) The provisions of law affecting the city may be segregated in two documents, both of which would receive the initial approval of the Legislature, but one of which (called, perhaps, the administrative code) would thenceforth be amendable locally. Unless the code were deliberately made a consolidation of all provisions of earlier law not covered by the charter (an arrangement not advocated in the proposals for an administrative code thus far broached), it would still be necessary to dispose somehow of an unknown body of pre-existing law; this could be done by the use of the qualified repealing and saving clauses indicated under the first heading, or by outright repeal, or by conditional repeal.