« PreviousContinue »
on property for state purposes; but in New York, owing to the separation of state and local revenues,' each city must derive its revenues principally from taxes on real estate and personal property.
In former times the city council enjoyed a large power in granting franchises for the construction of municipal utilities, such as waterworks and lighting systems, and in regulating public service corporations. It has been found by practical experience, however, that many city councils have been guilty of corrupt practices in the exercise of this power and it has, therefore, been withdrawn in many instances. Where it is not exercised by the state legislature it is frequently vested in boards or commissions, such as the board of estimate and apportionment in New York. As the result, the power of the 'city council is often reduced to issuing petty licenses to tradesmen and to regulating only minor matters relative to public utilities. In a majority of cities, however, it still retains a considerable measure of power over franchises; but in many of them it is subject to a referendum to the voters.2
The city council has also been shorn of its former authority over the administration of the city, and it stands to-day in a sharp contrast to the English council which elects the mayor and through various committees superintends the several departments of municipal administration. In the United States, the city council seldom has any large appointing power and its influence over the administration is of slight importance. In general, the heads of departments and the municipal boards are either elected by popular vote or appointed by the mayor, sometimes with the approval of the council. The council furthermore does not enjoy the right of removing officers and thus controlling the general direction of the executive department.
To bring the administration and the council together, however, the charter of New York provides that the heads of administrative departments shall have seats in the board of aldermen, must attend when required, must answer questions on due notice, and may participate in the discussion without enjoying the right to vote. The board of aldermen is charged with seeing to the faithful execution of laws and ordinances of the city, and it may
1 Below, p. 715.
2 Below, p. 597.
appoint committees to examine the books and records of any department or officer. In practice, though, it cannot be said that the board of aldermen of New York enjoys any large authority over the administration.
Finally, the ordinances passed by the city council are subject to the mayor's veto. In New York City, an ordinance vetoed by the mayor can go into effect only when repassed by two-thirds of the council, or by three-fourths if it involves expenditures, debt creation, or assessment, and the mayor's veto on grants of franchises, such as the council may make, is final.
The city has a mayor or chief magistrate who is, except in a very few instances, elected by popular vote. His term of service varies from one to five years annual election being most common in New England. The term in Jersey City is five years, in New York City, Chicago, and Boston, four years, and in most other important cities, such as Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, and San Francisco, it is two years. The salary of the mayor varies from a few hundred dollars in the smaller cities to $15,000 a year in New York an amount one-third larger than the salary of the governor and the largest paid in any city of the United States.
The powers of the mayor extend to legislative, administrative, and financial matters. Like the governor of the state, it is his duty to communicate at least once a year to the board of aldermen a general statement on the finances, improvements, and administration of the city. He may recommend to the city council, either in his annual message or from time to time, such measures as he may deem expedient. He furthermore enjoys the veto power in most of our cities; and mayors, following the example set by the governors,' have frequently used the veto, not only to defeat unlawful ordinances, but also to prevent the passage of measures which they deemed adverse to public interest. The mayor, in many cities, enjoys the power to veto separate items in appropriation bills. Following the example of the state constitutions, our city charters often provide that a vetoed ordinance
1 See above, p. 498.
2 For example, in Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis, New York, and San Francisco, and in all Ohio and Illinois cities.
can become law only when repassed by the council by an extraordinary majority, sometimes two-thirds and in many instances even more; but in a few smaller cities the mayor's veto may be overridden by the repassage with the ordinary majority.
The financial powers of the mayor vary from city to city, but it may be said with safety that they are being steadily increased in the greater municipalities. The mayor not only enjoys, as we have seen, the power of vetoing financial measures, but he also has, in a number of instances, a very large control over the making of the city budget. It seems that in Boston the budget has long originated with the mayor as a matter of practice; and on the recommendation of the recent commission appointed to investigate the government of that city the preparation of the budget is now vested in the mayor in law, as well as in practice.1 In New York City, the mayor enjoys a very peculiar position with regard to finances. He is a member of the board of estimate and apportionment and as such possesses three votes out of a total number of sixteen. He also has the power to veto bills involving finances passed by the board of aldermen, and it takes a three-fourths vote to override an exercise of this power. In Baltimore, the mayor is likewise a member of the board of estimate and he is a member of the commission of finance in charge of the sinking funds. It is also strongly recommended in the municipal program of the National Municipal League that a large power in arranging the city budget should be given to the mayor. This development is, of course, in line with the evolution of the budget system in England, where the preparation of the budget is vested in a responsible finance minister who is in close touch with the officers of the administration —and thus with the outgo of the moneys appropriated and is, at the same time, answerable to the electorate through his responsibility to the majority in the House of Commons. The waste, extravagance, and misappropriation of funds in our cities have been largely due to the fact that the financial administration has not been sufficiently concentrated in the hands of officers responsible to the electorate.
In the appointment of municipal officers and the direction of municipal administration, the power of the mayor is likewise
1 See Readings, p. 524; below, 604.
2 See above, p. 589.
steadily increasing. In the beginning of our history, municipal officers were generally appointed by the city council; but with the democratic revolution of the first half of the nineteenth century,' most of the important offices, boards, and commissions were made elective. It was found, however, by practical experience, that popular election did not actually secure responsibility of elected officers to the voters; for, owing to the number of offices and to the complexity of the election operations, the selection of candidates actually fell into the hands of expert politicians, who made the "slates" and thus secured possession of the municipal government. In order to check the corruption which resulted from this system, the device of "bi-partisan" boards and commissions was adopted with the hope that the representatives of one party would hold in check the representatives of the other party; but, in practice, it turned out that the representatives of the two parties, in a large number of instances, made terms with each other and divided the spoils of office.
Finding that the elective system did not really secure popular election and that the bi-partisan device did not check the spoilsmen, municipal reformers determined to try the experiment of concentrating the appointing power in the hands of the mayorthus making him responsible for the conduct of the whole administration. This development has reached its highest stage in the city of New York, where the mayor appoints the commissioners of the police force, the department of street cleaning, the fire department, the department of parks, the department of health, the tenement house department, and, in short, the heads of all important branches of the municipal administration; and enjoys also the unrestricted power of removing these municipal officers, except members of the board of education, judges, and a few others. Where the mayor has this large appointing and removing power he can really carry into effect that provision of the city charter which lays upon him the duty of seeing "that the laws and ordinances are faithfully executed."
As in the state and national government, so in our city governments, the growth of population and the development of many See above, p. 79.
special social problems have rendered necessary the multiplication of municipal functions; and to secure efficiency and responsibility almost every device known to the history of municipal administration has been tried in the United States. We have intrusted the great departments of administration --such as police, fire, streets, public works-to elective boards, to appointive boards, and to bi-partisan boards; and now, after many years of experimenting, we seem to be going in the direction of single-headed administrative departments, filled by the mayor under his appointing and removing power. As Professor Goodnow says, "the desirability of single-headed departments has come to be regarded as unquestionable; it is heretical at the present time to express the conviction that the board form is preferable."
The single-headed system, however, is not without its defects. Owing to the complexity of the duties required in the administration of a large municipal department, we cannot expect efficiency where the term of office is short and where the office is generally looked upon as a reward for political service. On the other hand, permanent tenure means the development of an official class which is regarded with suspicion by the American public and which in practice, by virtue of its mastery of the mysteries of the government, tends to check democratic control. It has been suggested, therefore,' that the various departments of municipal administration might be placed in the hands of unpaid boards, the members of which would determine only matters of general policy, leaving the technical details of administration to permanent officials selected for the most part under civil service rules.
It is impossible here to go far into the details of the administration of American municipalities, but some idea of the difficult nature of the subject may be gathered from an examination of the executive branch of the government of New York City. At the head stands the mayor, whose powers and duties are partially described above. The entire area of greater New York is divided into five boroughs, Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Richmond. In each borough, a president is elected by popular vote. Many matters of borough administration are left to the
1 Goodnow, Municipal Government, p. 228.
2 On this large topic, Fairlie, Municipal Administration, and Essays in Municipal Administration.