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THE MUNICIPAL PROBLEM IN THE UNITED STATES.

HORACE E. DEMING.

The American

a failure.

Municipal government in the United States is, on the whole, less satisfactory than our State or national governments. It has City regarded been confidently claimed by many that the conspicuous failure of by many as a

proof that she democracy as a form of government under the exacting condi- democratic form tions of our modern industrial civilization is demonstrated by the of government is American city. In several States there have been elaborate investigations and reports by specially appointed State commissions upon the subject of municipal government, and the evils have been pictured again and again. Literally thousands upon thousands of statutes and not a few constitutional amendments have been enacted in the search for remedies. Still the evil remains with us.

Is, then, the search for a remedy hopeless? Does the Democratic-Republican form of government make impossible the honest, efficient, economical, progressive conduct of municipal affairs? In Great Britain and on the continent of Europe under the widely varying governmental systems of Eng-ment of Euroland, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Belgium the cities are the most conspicuous examples of efficiency, economy and progress in the field of government. In each of those countries, also, the city, as a scheme of government for the determination of matters of local policy and the administration of local concerns, is far more democratic, not only in its conception, but in actual practice, than the general government itself. The failure of municipal government in our own country, therefore, can hardly be in Europe more attributed to the democratic character of our institutions. To democratic than what, then, is this failure due? In our judgment the principal causes are not difficult of statement, and in saying this we recognize that these causes are themselves the result of or complicated with yet other causes. There is no short or easy road to the goal of efficient, economical, progressive municipal

Good

govern

pean cities

City government

in this country.

Correct conception of nature of municipal gov

relation of the

tion to the

tion to the

gen

of the State.

government. There is no one specific for the municipal evils from which we suffer.

A necessary condition precedent either to an intelligent com

prehension of the municipal problem or to well-directed effort ernment and the toward its solution is, a correct conception, first, of the nature of

municipal government, and, secondly, of the proper relation of municipality to the State a con- the municipality to the general government of the State. dition precedent

Municipal government considered in reference to the physito comprehension or solution cal area embraced within its corporate limits and to the dwellers of the municipal within those limits has two chief functions: (1) The determination problem. Municipal gov

of the local public policy; (2) the administration of the local polernment in rela- icy, i. e., the carrying into practical effect of the local policy that

has been decided upon. locality. Municipal gov

Municipal government considered in reference to the genernment in rela- eral government of the State, unless charged by the State goveral government

ernment with the administration of general laws, has, properly speaking, nothing to do with the State government save as the source from which its own corporate life and powers are derived; and the State is under no compulsion to delegate to the municipal corporation the administration within the corporate limits of the general State laws, i. e., the carrying into practical effect within the corporate limits, of the State policy that has been decided upon. The State may and often does appoint its own agents directly for such purposes, e. g., the State Banking, Insurance or Excise Departments may administer the State laws on those subjects within the municipal limits without resort to any municipal official; on the other hand, the State may find it convenient to delegate to the municipality the authority and duty of enforcing within it the State policy, e. g., as to the care of the insane, the poor, the preservation of the peace. The point to be noted is, that whenever the municipality is charged with such a duty it is acting as a subordi

rate administrative agent of the State, and has properly no more The only fundamentally neces. lot or share in determining the policy of the law it is administering sary connection within its corporate limits than if directly appointed State officials between the municipality were administering the same law within those limits.

The only fundamentally necessary connection, then, between that the latter is the municipality and the State government is as the source from the source of the which the municipal corporation, as every other corporation, de

rives its corporate powers. It needs no assistance from the State

and the State Government is

corporate pow. ers.

administrative

State.

failure of munici.

States:

to exercise its corporate powers. Its necessary connection with the State begins and ends with the grant of power to act, just as an insurance corporation once granted the power to engage in the insurance business has no need of further resort to the State to

Municipality conduct its business. Where, however, the municipality is made may also be a a subordinate administrative agent of the State it is necessarily and subordinate properly under the constant supervision and subject to the con- agent of the stant control of the State.

We are now prepared for the statement of two of the principal Two of the princauses of the failure thus far in the United States to secure effi- cipal causes of cient, economical, progressive municipal government, viz.:

pal government The municipality is not granted sufficient power to determine in the United for itself all matters of local public policy and to settle for itself

1. Municipality the details of its scheme of internal local administration;

without sufficient The municipality as a subordinate administrative agent of power for healthy the State is placed partly or wholly under the supervision and 2. Municipality control not of any State administrative department, but of the istra

istrative agent State Legislature.

unwisely made

subordinate to If, now, we turn once more to the relatively successful experi

State legislature. ence of European cities we find that, as compared with American cities, the European cities are conspicuous examples of self-gov- The State supererning communities as to all local matters, and that, without attempting to draw any hard and fast line of demarcation between administrative. what may be properly denominated State functions and city

The European functions, whenever the State does exercise any supervision over city is self-govthe municipality it is an administrative, not a legislative, super-erning ; the

American city is vision. In a broad, general sense it may be said that the European State-governed. city is self-governing, that the American city is State-governed. The citizens of Glasgow govern Glasgow; the Legislature of New York governs Buffalo.

as State admin

vision of European cities is

This dual character of the city as a scheme of local govern- The dual characment and as a subordinate administrative agent of the State has ter of the city as caused and still causes much confusion of mind when municipal government and problems are considered. There has been too often a failure to as a State adminrecognize the profound distinction between the two radically dif- has caused a ferent functions which the city is called upon to perform in its

confusion of relation to the locality upon the one hand and to the State on the ering municipal other. Even when this distinction has been recognized it has problems.

istrative agent

mind in consid

Confusion not cured by attempt

ries State gove

ipal govern

usually been as a pure matter of theory; or the value of the recognition has been lost in attempts to classify municipal governmental functions and State governmental functions into separate categories in the vain and futile expectation that by so doing some rule or formula could be established, by the observance of which

the State could be kept out of the local field altogether. Those imto classify into pressed with the importance of preserving the supremacy of the separate catego- State have been willing enough to admit as a matter of theoretical ernmental func- analysis of governmental powers that the city as to its purely local tions and munic-affairs should not be interfered with by the State, but their practimental functions, cal conduct is inspired by the dread that an imperium in imperio

would be created if such interference were prohibited. Those convinced that the city should be assured absolute independence in the conduct of its own affairs often find it impossible in a given case to draw the line between the jurisdiction of the State and the jurisdiction of the city. For example, the State must see to it that the public health is cared for and good order preserved in every part of its territory whether within or without the corporate limits of a city; the same may be said of public education. The duty and the right of the State to determine and enforce a general State policy everywhere within its borders in sanitary, educational and police matters

matters are unquestioned. One does not hesitate a moment to class these among the functions of the State government. Yet we know as a matter of every-day experience that these are among the very subjects with which municipalities are most intimately concerned and that within their corporate limits the local public policy must be based upon a higher standard and the local administration of the policy must be more elaborate in its details and more strictly enforced than is required by the State at large. It would seem, therefore, as if these were municipal governmental functions as well as State governmental functions; and such is the fact.

It does not follow, however, that the State should prescribe or control the municipal policy as to the matters mentioned be. yond the point required to enforce the general policy of the State at large. The State may be satisfied to require only elementary education throughout the State generally; the city may desire high schools and free colleges; is it a State function to decide this question? The State may select its own officials to enforce and admin

ister within the city the State policy as to elementary education; or, if it prefer, may delegate such enforcement and administration to the municipality under State supervision; but is the State not an interloper when it goes beyond that and defines the city policy as to education of a higher grade as to which the State has no general policy whatever? The determination, in the case supposed, of the public educational policy within the municipality as to the higher grades of education is as purely a local governmental function as is the decision of such matters as street grading and paving, the height of buildings, the maintenance of parks, the construction of a bridge, the erection of a city hall, the establishment of markets.

How, then, can this dual character of the functions performed by a municipal corporation be recognized in practice so as to preserve, on the one hand, its due subordination to the State when acting as the State's administrative agent and, on the other, its local independence when determining or administering matters of local policy?

The distinction to be noted and scrupulously maintained be- Distinction between State functions and city functions is not in any real or imaginary difference of the two considered as governmental functions.city functions The municipality is as truly government as the State. Its field not governof operation may, as we have seen, be in part identical with that municipality as of the State government. In so far as it operates within this field truly governit is performing State governmental functions; and the State just state. to the extent that it has a general policy within this field applicable throughout the State may compel the municipality to adopt and enforce that policy, or, if it chooses, may select some other agent rather than the municipality for the purpose. But when there is no such general State policy in force, and outside of the limits of such policy, the municipality is not properly subject to State supervision.

The test, then, of the propriety or impropriety of any given the test is instance of interference or control by the State in the local public Does the local policy of a city is this: Does the local policy conflict with the gen- with a State

policy conflict eral public policy of the State as determined by the policy-deter-policy embodied mining authority of the State and which as such general policy is

applicable everyembodied in laws equally applicable to every part of the State?

where through The application of this test will, we think, go far to remove

tween State functions and

mental. The

ment as the

in a general law

out the State.

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