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water plants and the small electric-light plants owned and operated by American cities, we may say that the principle of municipal ownership has secured no general acceptance. Doubtless the general view current in the United States is well represented by the report of a commission on public ownership appointed by the National Civic Federation in 1907. That commission came to the conclusion that municipal ownership of public utilities should not be extended to revenue-producing industries not involving public health, safety, and transportation, or the permanent occupation of public streets or grounds. It is generally held that owing to the corruption and inefficiency of so many of our city governments no sort of public business on a large scale can be successfully operated directly by municipal authorities. How far this view represents the mature judgment of people who have given the matter any thought and how far it is an opinion advanced by the private interests opposed to the extension of municipal ownership it is, of course, difficult to determine.?
It is certain that most of the corruption in American city government has been connected with the exploitation of public franchises by private corporations. It is undoubtedly true, also, that “politics,” in the bad sense of that word, is mixed up as much with private ownership as with public, and the career of some of the New York transit companies will compare in mismanagement and dishonesty with the career of the Philadelphia gasworks under the ownership and operation of the city. Indeed, it is argued by advocates of municipal ownership and operation that the danger of corruption is by no means so marked in connection with public ownership as with private ownership. They hold that the greater responsibilities associated with public ownership will attract a higher quality of men to our municipal governments; that in proportion as the city, through public ownership, touches directly the lives of its citizens, popular in
1 Readings, p. 548.
? For an excellent example of the way in which interested corporations may use modern publicity to discredit municipal ownership, see the Progressive Age for November, 1907 an article on “Municipal Ownership in New York City.”
3 See Bryce, American Commonwealth, Vol. II, chap. lxxxix, and Readings, p. 552.
* See Readings, p. 550.
terest in its government and administration will be increased; that a higher standard of labor conditions may be established; and that only public ownership and operation will secure that control necessary to make the various municipal enterprises render adequate services.
It may be doubted, however, whether arguments in the abstract on this question of municipal ownership are of any practical value. Most opinions which we now have rendered as to the respective merits of public and private ownership are merely ex parte statements. It may be said with safety that in some places municipal ownership and operation have succeeded remarkably well and that in other places, notably in Philadelphia, municipal ownership is connected with corruption and inefficiency. No general conclusion seems possible at the present time except that municipal ownership will not succeed in any city unless high standards of civil service are established and there is a large and influential group or class permanently and deeply interested in the economical and efficient management of the enterprise in question. Municipal ownership, therefore, is in itself not good or bad; its success depends upon the standards and ideals of the community in which it is tried.
LOCAL RURAL GOVERNMENT 1
THE differences in local institutions throughout the United States have been so often emphasized by writers on American government that it seems well at the outset to indicate certain fundamental principles common to them all. The first of these is that our local communities enjoy large powers of self-government through elective officers, and in the exercise of these powers are only slightly subject to the supervision and control of the state administrative officers. In the second place, the states, with one exception, are divided into counties, and counties are in turn divided into towns, townships, or districts of one kind or another. Every county, and generally speaking every subdivision of a county, is a unit for certain financial, judicial, police, and local improvement purposes which are usually carried out by elective officers and boards. In the third place, subject to the few general provisions in the commonwealth constitution, the county and its subdivisions are under the absolute control of the state legislature, which can create and abolish offices, distribute functions among the various authorities, and in other ways regu
, late by law even to the minutest detail the conduct of local government.
The divergences that occur among the states in local institutions may be ascribed to the manner in which local functions are distributed between the authorities of the county and of the town or township and to the manner in which the inhabitants of the county subdivisions participate in the conduct of their local matters. On this basis of differentiation our states have been classified into the three famous groups: (1) those of the New England type in which the town and its open meeting overshadow in importance the county; (2) those of the South in which the township is absent or appears only in the most rudimentary form; and (3) those of the middle type, like New York and Pennsylvania, in which the town, or township, as it is sometimes called, has a large and important place, but is subordinate to the county administration. These three types of local government, which will be described in due time, have been carried westward roughly along parallel lines and have formed, with varying emphasis, the basis for the development of local institutions west of the Alleghanies.
1 In the preparation of this chapter extensive use has been made of the scholarly work by Professor Fairlie, Local Government in Counties, Towns, and Villages, to which the student is referred for further details.
2 Louisiana is the only state in which the district is not known as the county. There it is called the parish.
The County The last census reported 2852 counties in the United States, varying in size from the county of Bristol in Rhode Island, embracing twenty-five square miles, to the great county of Custer in Montana covering more than twenty thousand square miles. A majority of the counties, however, range between 300 and goo square miles in area. The divergences in population are even greater, for at one end of the scale we have New York county, the heart of the metropolis, with more than two million inhabitants, and at the other end, Brown county, Texas, with four residents according to the census of 1900. Even within the same state there may be the greatest divergences in area and population. Kings county in New York has seventy-two square miles and St. Lawrence county 2880 square miles; Hamilton county has only 5000 inhabitants, and Schuyler about 15,000. Delaware has three counties, Massachusetts fourteen, New York sixtyone, and Texas 243. Every county has a county town, which is the seat of the offices of administration. In every state except two, Rhode Island and Georgia, there is a county board' in charge of certain matters of finance and administration, and every county has a group of officers connected with the administration of justice, police control, finance, and miscellaneous matters. Besides being a unit for the satisfaction of purely local needs, the county is also a subdivision of the state for the discharge of many central functions, especially in connection with finance and elections.
Let us examine first the county board. From the point of view of organization, county boards may be divided into two general classes: (1) the small board of three or more members
· The Louisiana parish also has a board.
elected at large for the whole county or from large districts, and (2) the representative board composed ordinarily of one member elected from each township within the county. The former type prevails generally in New England, the South, the Middle West, and Pacific states; the latter type is to be found in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and a few other states.
Each of the two types of county board, the small board and the large representative body, has its peculiar advantages. The former can readily meet oftener, transacts business with more facility, and can, with more certainty, be held responsible for the due discharge of its legal duties. The latter is more representative in principle, affords fewer opportunities for collusion among the members, and partakes more of a deliberative character. In point of fact, however, both systems have been severely criticised as wasteful, inefficient, and sometimes corrupt; and several attempts have been made to institute other organs of local government to check and control the county board. For example, in Indiana, the legislature has superimposed on that board a county council invested with the important local financial functions.
The functions of the county board generally fall into five classes: the levy of taxes and appropriation of local funds, the maintenance of roads and highways, the construction and care of county buildings, the relief of the poor, and the control of elections. In the distribution of these functions, however, there are great variations among the states. In New Hampshire and Connecticut the power of taxation and appropriation is vested in a county convention, composed of the members of the legislature from the county, which meets every two years. In Massachusetts, this financial power is vested in the legislature, the county commissioners merely furnishing the estimates. Indiana, as has been indicated, has adopted another device for controlling county finances. In New England and some other states, the relief of the poor is principally left to the town, although the county is not entirely without responsibility in this matter. In New England, the county board has no functions relating to elections; and in the West and South, the county commissioners frequently constitute the licensing authority. To offset the confusion liable to arise from this attempt to
1 Readings, p. 561.