Page images
PDF
EPUB

keenly felt the necessity of bringing any system that they might recommend into organic relation with the traditions and accepted political ideas of the American people.

At the request of the committee, four of its members have undertaken to discuss elsewhere some of the more important underlying principles that have controlled the preparation of the proposed “Constitutional Amendment” and “Municipal Corporations Act.” These papers, which have been submitted to and approved by the committee, and thus constitute essential parts of its report, are as follows: "The Municipal Problem in the United States,"

Mr. Horace E. Deming. "The Place of the Council and of the Mayor

in the Organization of Municipal Gov-
ernment. The Necessity of Distin-
guishing Legislation from Adminis-
tration.”.

Prof. F. J. Goodnow. "The City in the United States. The Proper Scope of Its Activities.".

Dr. Albert Shaw. "Municipal Franchises.".

. Mr. Charles Richardson. These papers should be read and examined in connection with the more formal portions of the committee's report. As introductory to these papers we wish to present some of the general principles that have determined the formulation of the provisions of the proposed Constitutional Amendment and Municipal Corporations Act.

THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.

An examination of the provisions of the Constitutional Amendment will show that four distinct classes of subjects are treated:

I. The relation of the municipality to the State.
II. The powers of the municipality.
III. The procedure in the exercise of municipal functions.

IV. The electoral franchise and the application of the "merit" principle to the administrative service.

I.

THE RELATION OF THE MUNICIPALITY TO THE

STATE,

OONSTITUTIONAL SAFEGUARDS AGAINST SPECIAL LEGISLA

TION.

ence.

The inadequacy of the constitutional provisions usually adopted to provide against special legislation has been an experience common to most of our American States. In the opinion of the committee the two main causes of such failure are:

First-The absence of a definition of special legislation in the Constitution itself, the result of which is to permit such minute classification as to open the way to special legislation under the guise of general laws; and

Secondly—The narrow powers granted to cities which necessitates constant application to the Legislature for further powers

and thus systematically develops the habit of legislative interferArt. III, Sec. 7. The committee has therefore attempted in Article III, Sec

tion 7, of the Constitutional Amendment to define special legislation as legislation which is not made applicable to all the cities of the States or all the inhabitants thereof. The system proposed requires for such measures the action of an overwhelming majority of the Legislature, and in case of the disapproval of any of the cities affected, increases the safeguards by requiring that the twothirds majority shall include three-fourths of the members of the Legislature from districts outside of the city or cities affected.

In order further to reduce the necessity for special legislation, the amendment provides for a liberal grant of municipal powers, thus diminishing the dependence of the city upon the State Legislature. The committee has felt that this method of regulating special legislation will protect the paramount interests of the State and, at the same time, assure to the cities all necessary freedom of action. As a further guarantee to such freedom of action, the amendment provides that all cities having a population of twentyfive thousand or over may frame their own charters, subject to the Constitution and to such power of the Legislature to pass laws under the restrictions regarding special legislation above outlined.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS REGULATING

MUNICIPAL ORGANIZATION. In these provisions the committee has endeavored to formulate the principles which the experience of American and European cities has shown to be necessary to efficient municipal organization. With but few exceptions, they have been tested in one or a number of American cities, while in those cases in which present practice has been departed from, the evidence in favor of such changes is so conclusive that few, if any, will hesitate to ac

cept them.

THE GENERAL PLAN OF MUNICIPAL ORGANIZATION.

Article III, Section 6, separates the executive and adminis- Art. III, Sec. 6. trative functions of the local government from the legislative or policy-determining powers; and vests the latter in a Council elected by the people. The committee is fully aware that in many cases a sharp dividing line between these two classes of functions is not possible. The abuses directly traceable to the unwillingness of local assemblies to make any distinction, have made the recognition of the general principles discussed in Mr. Deming's and Professor Goodnow's papers of very great importance.

This section furthermore abolishes fixed terms of office, ex- Art. III, Sec. 6. cept for officials elected by popular vote, and makes the Mayor and the members of the Council the only city officers so elected. The Mayor is the chief administrative officer of the city, with power to appoint and remove all heads of departments except the head of the Finance Department, and, subject to the application of the "merit principle," has the power to appoint all officials in the subordinate administrative service of the city. The recommendation that heads of departments be appointed by the Mayor is in harmony with a principle that is rapidly receiving general acceptance throughout the United States. The committee is strongly of the opinion that these officers should not be appointed for fixed terms. The system which prevails at present creates the impression that each incoming Mayor should appoint a new set of departmental heads. The committee feels that everything should be done to favor long terms of administrative officers performing efficient, non-partisan service, and with this in view the

heads of departments are to hold office until their successors are appointed.

II.

POWERS OF THE MUNICIPALITY.

Art. III, Sec. 7.

As regards the powers of the municipality, it is evident that the constitutional provisions proposed by the committee give to the municipality the widest possible discretion in determining the sphere of its activity. In fact, one of the main ends which the committee has had in view has been to assure to every city a large measure of freedom in the determination of local policy. In making this recommendation the committee is conscious of having departed from the accepted principles of the law of public corporations. The courts have always required a specific grant from the legislature to justify an exercise of local authority. In giving to the municipality all powers not inconsistent with the general laws of the State, the committee has endeavored to reverse the policy of the past and to create the presumption in favor of the broadest exercise of municipal powers. The history of municipal government clearly shows that the constant appeals to the state legislature for additional powers has been one of the most unfortunate influences in our public life. It has created the impression that the real seat of city government is in the state legislature, rather than in the city authorities, and has developed the unfortunate habit of constant interference by the former body in local affairs.

LIMIT OF CITY INDEBTEDNESS.

Art. III, Sec. 2.

Provisions limiting city indebtedness are to be found in most state constitutions or municipal corporation acts. Article III, Sec. 2, permits the people of each State to determine the limits of indebtedness. The committee wishes, however, to call the attention of the League to one principle of considerable importance. In determining the limits of debt-contracting power a distinction should be made between the indebtedness incurred in the purchase, construction and improvement of revenue-producing enterprises and that which represents investment which, although beneficial to the community, gives no direct return. For instance, a debt incurred in the construction of gas works, or water works does

not represent a real financial burden, since the interest and sinking fund charges are usually paid out of the profits of these enterprises. It is manifestly inexpedient so to limit the debt-contracting power of the municipality as to prevent it from performing important public services. The plan recommended provides all necessary safeguards for the increase of municipal indebtedness and still leaves sufficient freedom to meet the requirements of municipal development. To permit the increase of indebtedness for the purchase of remunerative public works after an affirmative vote by two-thirds of the members of Councils and subject to the approval of the citizens at the next ensuing election of city officers should meet the views of the most conservative.

MINOR COURTS.

The authority of the city to establish minor courts for the Art. III, Sec. 5. enforcement of obedience to city ordinances and with such further jurisdiction as is consistent with the general judiciary system of the State will, without conflicting in any way with such system and indeed, in strict subordination to it, furnish a necessary agency for the efficient conduct of the local government.

III.

THE PROCEDURE IN THE EXERCISE OF MUNICIPAL

FUNCTIONS.

MUNICIPAL FRANCHISES.

In Article III, Section 1, the city's property in its streets, Art. III, Sec. I. docks, ferries, bridges and public places is declared to be inalienable except by a four-fifths vote of all the members elected to the Council and approved by the Mayor. Careful constitutional provisions have been formulated as to the method of granting franchises. That such franchises should only be granted for a limited period is a principle that has now received very general acceptance. The application of this principle is of particular importance in a country like the United States, where the legislative authority is restricted by the constitutional guarantees to vested rights. With us the grant of a valuable franchise for an indefinite period is in fact, if not in law, irrevocable. The enormous value of such a franchise makes it practically impossible for a city to repurchase

« PreviousContinue »