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1892, in which the majority, with a vote of 166,000, elected every member of the council, while the minority, with 100,000 votes, was entirely unrepresented.1
Somewhat analogous conditions have existed in other cities at times, and have led to a demand that provisions be made for minority representation. In the New York constitutional convention of 1894, for example, such a reform was proposed, and in support of this principle Mr. Root said: "I do not know whether this is desirable. There is one thing about it that I can say. It is, that in a great city it is not practicable to secure the same kind and variety of representation by means of cutting the city up into districts which you get when you take the different counties of the state, or when you take the different towns of a county, for the reason that locality counts for nothing in the city, except in isolated cases. Here and there will be a neighborhood which is homogeneous, the people dwelling about a square, the people in a little section of a street; but as a rule, my next-door neighbor is not the man who lives next to me; he is the man, perhaps, who lives three or four miles away, and whom I meet in business, at church, at the club, in various enterprises. Locality counts for nothing. The lines of demarcation between localities do not differentiate representation, and every man elected to a municipal legislature represents the whole city as much as he represents the particular division from which he is elected. So, Mr. Chairman, the only logical way in which to elect representatives would be on a general ticket; but if you elect them on a general ticket, either one party or the other would have the whole, and the only way to secure any variety of representation in the discussion of contending interests, in the rectification of the ideas of a majority at conflict with the minority, such as we get in our legislature by electing from different counties, is by means of some plan of proportional representation or minority representation." 2
The proposition to provide for this, however, was strongly combatted on the ground "that the true theory of democratic government is not in the representation of every crank and every 'ism'
1The system of electing at large will also result in excluding minority representation unless some plan of cumulative voting is devised. (See above, p. 523.)
2 Revised Record of the New York Constitutional Convention, Vol. III, pp. 560-651.
in legislative bodies, but in carefully selecting the men and measures which shall conserve the greatest good for the greatest number." It was pointed out also that under a system of minority representation a party possessing a large plurality could be outnumbered by a combination of minority factions, and thus responsible rule would become impossible. The argument against the reform prevailed in the constitutional convention.
Notwithstanding all the various reforms which have been devised for cities in the United States the municipal council has, generally speaking, declined in its powers and in public esteem.2 Just as the early authority of the state legislatures has been curtailed by one restriction after another, so the original power of the municipal council has been shorn away by one process or another. The state legislatures are increasing the range of their general legislation with regard to sanitation, tenement houses, public health, education, and police; and the extension of this general legislation has naturally curtailed the powers of city councils. Their powers have been further reduced by the creation of separate boards and departments such as the board of estimate and apportionment in New York, which really has entire control over the finances of the city. The former right of appointing municipal officers has been taken away from the council in a large number of cities and vested in the mayor. Furthermore, the general ordinance power of the council is being curtailed, either by positive prohibitions in the charter or by the inclusion of much legislative matter in that instrument. Under these circumstances it is small wonder that the city council has been falling into neglect and inglorious decay. The condition became so notorious in Boston that a committee making an official investigation reported that membership in the legislative body of the municipality was a discredit rather than an honor, and that it was difficult to induce representative men to become candidates for either branch.3
In a large number of cities, the inefficiency and dishonesty of the city council has led to its complete abolition and the substitution of a small board of directors elected at large a commission with full legislative and administrative powers.4
1 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 172.
2 Chicago is a notable exception. See Deming, Government of American Cities, pp. 91 ff. 3 See Readings, p. 521. See below, p. 598.
However, all those who recognize the evils so prevalent in the city council are by no means convinced that such a branch of municipal government should be abolished. Many eminent publicists suggest, in the place of this drastic cure, a complete rehabilitation of that body. They argue that a deliberative representative assembly is indispensable in city government to bring the sense of the people and their varying interests to bear in legislation; that the insignificant power enjoyed by the city council is largely responsible for the fact that few energetic and capable citizens are willing to be candidates for membership; and also that it is only through a representative common council that party politics can be kept out of the administrative offices. "It is plain," says Mr. Dorman B. Eaton, "that a true council is in its nature a non-partisan body because one in which . . . all party interests and sentiments of importance will be represented. To increase the authority of the mayor is, therefore, to increase the power of party in the city government; while to increase the authority of the council is to augment the influence of the nonpartisan and independent elements among the people." 1
The Powers of the City Council
First among the general powers of the city council may be placed its "police power." Unlike the state legislatures, the council is usually restricted rather narrowly in this matter by the terms of the charter, but a proviso is frequently added to the effect that it may exercise the "powers necessary to preserve the peace and good order of the community and promote the public welfare." The board of aldermen or city council ordinarily has the power to make, amend, and repeal ordinances relating to health, parks, fires, and buildings, except in so far as such power is conferred on the heads of departments or on other boards, and not controlled by state or federal law. The aldermanic council may make ordinances relative to beggars, vagrants, intoxication, fighting and disorder in the streets, public amusements, markets, gambling, bathing places, suppression of vice and immorality, the preservation of peace and good order, the use of firearms and firecrackers in the streets, parades, steam vessels, advertisements, circuses, obnoxious business, and other similar matters. It
1 The Government of Municipalities, p. 252.
must be noted, however, that in New York City, in accordance with the practices adopted in many American cities, the lawmaking power is really distributed among the council, departments, boards, and single officers.'
It is in matters of finance that the city council has suffered the most serious decline from its former position, for nowhere in the United States does it enjoy the privilege of imposing general taxes at will. The power of the city to incur debts is also restricted either to a definite sum or to a certain percentage of the assessed valuation of the property. The constitution of New York, for example, provides that no city or county may become indebted for any purpose or in any manner to an amount exceeding ten per cent of the assessed value of its real estate subject to taxation; but in 1909 an amendment was adopted enabling New York City to subtract from its total debt debts incurred for certain self-sustaining public improvements.
Even such power of laying taxes and incurring debts as the city possesses is, in an increasing number of instances, being taken away from the city council.2 In New York, for example, the budget of the city, which determines the amount of taxes which shall be raised, as well as the different objects to which the revenue shall be devoted, is prepared not by the board of aldermen but by the board of estimate and apportionment, composed of the mayor, comptroller, president of the board of aldermen and the presidents of the five boroughs into which the city is divided.3 The estimates contained in the budget as drafted and approved by the board of estimate and apportionment may be reduced but they cannot be increased by the board of aldermen, to whose approval they must be submitted.
In the commonwealth of New York the city also has no power to determine the character of the taxes laid; and this is the general rule throughout the United States. In most instances the city is permitted to add a certain percentage to the amount levied
1 On the way in which the original sanitary code of New York was drafted and adopted by the board of health, see Eaton, The Government of Municipalities, p. 263. 2 Below p. 604.
3 The mayor, comptroller, and president of the board of aldermen have three votes each, the borough presidents of Manhattan and Brooklyn two each, and the borough presidents of the Bronx, Queens, and Richmond one vote each.
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 2 Below, p. 597.
1 Below, p. 715.