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citizens as a whole respecting the conduct of executive work.1
1850. 1860. 1870. 1875.
1 The following tables show the change that has gradually taken place in the composition of the legislative branch of the City Government.
Percentage of Total Value 1ssessed to Aldermeu.
of Total Value Assessed to Coun cilmen.
1 Figures for 1894.
These tables show the gradual diminution in the representation secured by the property-owners of the city in the legislative branches of the government, and may be summed up in the statement that whereas during the first fifty years of our municipal history from 85 to 95 per cent. of the representatives elected by the people to the City Council were themselves owners of property, the proportion to-day has fallen to less than 30 per cent.
The voters of the city who pay a property tax secure as large a representation in the City Council as they are numerically entitled to, for they constiture only about twenty per cent. of the total number of registered voters (see Appendix, Table 3); but it cannot be doubted that the people as a whole still prefer that those who have
When the public business becomes voluminous and difficult, our municipal legislatures tend to degenerate into irresponsible debating societies; they represent local and special interests rather than the public interest as a whole: their committees are still further removed from responsibility to the public; and the results are inefficiency, extravagance, and a complete failure to administer the business of the city as the people on the whole desire. on the whole desire. Under these circumstances the executive powers of the government have in many of our cities been transferred to the Mayor as that member of the City Government nearest and most responsible to the people. The Mayor, unlike the members of the City Council, cannot shield himself behind a committee report or a majority vote; he is less open to influence by the organized private and special interests of the city, because he is elected by the people as a whole and must account to them; and his control makes the government more truly democratic by bringing it closer to the people, and by making it more responsive to the popular will. Thus we turn to a form of government more democratic both in fact and theory. In a pure democracy there is no room for representative institutions; and although government by direct popular vote has failed whenever tried in populous communities, it should be remembered that government by committees of an elective body is not democracy in the true and original sense. The new system is in theory more democratic than the legislative committee system, and is moreover a distinctly American idea; for a strong and independent Executive is that feature of the political institutions of this country which distinguishes them most completely from the parliamentary form of government common in European States.
In practice the plan has, I think, worked well; immeas
a sufficient direct interest in the tax levy to make them conservative in expenditure should have a larger share in the City Government than at present By propertyowners is massat those who are assessed 1 tax on real or personal estate. There are also, of course, many voters who are interested in property assessed to others.
urably better, at least, than the old one. It has brought about better results in the separate departments; it has secured a closer coöperation between them; and it has rendered easier the practice of economy. It imposes great labor on the Mayor, and it makes him literally responsible in the eyes of the people for everything that goes wrong, even in respect to matters over which he has no control; but, on the other hand, the honors and opportunities of the office are co-equal with its difficulties.
The doctrine of executive responsibility and control is therefore democratic in theory, American in origin, and successful in practice. The American people may claim to have practically invented two new and distinct forms of municipal government: the town meeting; and the city charter, in which all executive power is reposed in the Mayor. The former has been a successful feature of our political institutions for two centuries and a half; the latter is but a few years old, it is still on trial, and capable of development and improvement.?
1 It was from the outset bitterly antagonized by the City Council, and not until 1891 did the legislative branch thoroughly accept the limitations on its power imposed in 1885. Since 1891 there has been little question, even in the City Council, of the wisdom of the change.
2 See suggestions in Chapter 1.
THE PROBLEM OF CITY GOVERNMENT.
While we have changed, and as we think improved, the form and organization of our municipal government, it must not be inferred that the inherent difficulties of the problem have been lessened or removed. It has been made easier to handle them; but the difficulties still remain, and are increasing rather than diminishing.
The corruption about which we hear so much though fortunately not in Boston is the least of these difficulties. So far as my observation and information go, the government of this city has always been comparatively free from the suspicion of jobbery and fraud. Instances of corruption may be pointed out; but its detection and prevention ought not to be difficult in a city where the legislative body has nothing to do with executive work; and as a matter of fact the City Government of Boston has always been relatively free from this particular evil.
The difficulty here is not Corruption, but Expenditure.
There can be no doubt that our American cities as a whole spend more money than is required for the government of European cities of equal size; and Boston has
1 It also cannot be denied, that in the two particulars of street service and police work most of the foreign cities-especially those on the continent of Europe efficiently administered than ours; but it should not be forgotten that the continental police system is wholly foreign to our institutions, and that no English-speaking people would ever give to any police force the extensive powers which enable the foreign police to accomplish so much. Street cleaning is largely a question of labor, and as labor can be secured in European cities for from a quarter to a half of what is paid by American cities, it is of course proportionately easier to get good results in this branch of municipal service. In everything that relates to schools, hospitals, pauper institutions, and, of late years, parks, it cannot fairly be claimed, I believe, that our American cities as a whole are behind those of the Old Country. Finally, in some respects the cities of this country are generally much better equipped; namely, in water supply, drainage, and popular libraries. On the other hand, a perfectly clear case can be made out that our cities spend very much more money than European cities of similar size.
THE PROBLEM OF CITY GOVERNMENT.
apparently led them all in this respect, having probably for the last forty years expended more money on public account in proportion to the population than any other city in the world.1
Some of the causes of this excessive expenditure have been already pointed out. We cannot supply this community with pure water, wide streets, and good drainage, except at great cost. The city cannot pay higher salaries and wages than private employers; it cannot operate its water-works and ferries at less than cost; it cannot maintain a school system more elaborate than any to be found elsewhere; it cannot provide every suburban village within the municipal limits with school-houses, fire-engine houses, and police-stations; 3 it cannot build streets and sewers for the benefit of speculative laud-owners; it cannot do all these things, or any of them, without an inordinate annual expenditure and a correspondingly heavy tax rate.
The real difficulty to contend with is the demand of individuals, interests, classes, sections, and sometimes of the whole community, for extravagant expenditure; and this difficulty is constantly increasing as the belief gains ground that the community in its corporate capacity owes a liberal living to its individual members. A gradual change has come over the spirit of the people; and a large part of a population once the most independent and self-reliant in the world is now clamoring for support, as individuals or in classes, from the governments of this country, federal, state, and city. These symptoms, however, are not local; they may be more prominent here than in other cities, but they exist everywhere. They constitute the chief danger of popular government, and a danger that will be greater before it is less the demand for a systematic distribution of wealth by taxes.
1 See Chapter 3.
2 Chapters 3 and 5.
3 The outlying wards contribute in taxes collected from real and personal estate from one-third to one-half only of the amount annually expended from the city treasury in those wards.