Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

largest variety of employments, is a crucial mistake. Although our constitutional system seems to suggest no ready form of relief, some more rational alignment of the population into harmonious groups is to many of us what "a firm, wise, manly system of federal government" was to Robert Morris, in 1782, who, in speaking of such a government, said, "It is what I once wished, what I now hope for, what I dare not expect, but what I will not despair of." Is it too much to expect that we will, in the not too distant future, have cities which, simply organized and measurably free, will deserve their liberties; that the American people, developing a civic pride and a sense of true local patriotism, will make their cities the peers of the old Grecian or the Italian and Hanseatic cities whose careers were so brilliant in the Middle Ages?

67. RESULTS OF HOME RULE.

Since the preceding article was written the movement toward municipal self-government has spread to other States, notably Michigan and Oklahoma. That it has had a beneficial effect on city government is the opinion of Mr. M. R. Maltbie expressed in the following selection. [1905].

This scheme for municipal home rule seems to satisfy fully the cities that are working under it. Objections are raised to this or that detail, and not infrequently some minor change is advocated, but the fundamental principle is generally satisfactory. The vote upon amendments to the constitution has shown considerable opposition, but usually less than one-third of the total vote on the amendments, and I know of no instance where they have been defeated at the polls. Generally, the opposition comes principally from the rural districts which distrust the ability of the cities to govern themselves, are reluctant to surrender their control and are fearful of a campaign of retaliation. When once adopted, however, the number of opponents rapidly decreases, and in the cities themselves it is very small. In no State is it proposed to repeal the home rule provision and to return to the lees and husks of legislative rule. It is possible that the people are mistaken

and that their present condition is worse than their first, but it is undisputed that the cities having freeholders charters are satisfied with the general scheme of home rule.

The character of the charters adopted seems to justify this view. The statement is frequently made by persons who have lived in various cities and have had an opportunity to compare freeholders charters with legislative charters that the former are noticeably better, that they more nearly conform to the best principles of political science, have greater unity and consistency, are better adapted to the needs of the locality, respond more quickly to local changes, etc. My own investigation confirms this statement, but there have been exceptions. The champions of home rule do not claim that it has wrought a revolution in city administration or has brought the millennium. Municipal corruption has existed in St. Louis even under its freeholders charter. But political corruption has its source back of charters; they may assist, but they rarely cause it. However, a good charter is an aid to good government, and so far as it is often immeasurably sothe system of home rule we are discussing has contributed its share.

The long period in which it has been tested and the varying circumstances under which it has been tried seem to indicate that its beneficial results are permanent and not transitory. It is founded on certain fundamental principles which are thoroughly sound. In the first place, the system fixes responsibility. Under legislative charters, the city excuses itself for every misdeed, saying that as it does not make its own laws, it cannot be held accountable and that the fault lies with the legislature. The legislature replies that the city is to blame. When a city makes its own charter, such shillyshallying is impossible. If its government is at fault, it has the exclusive power to remodel it, and it cannot shift the burden to another's shoulders. It makes its own bed, and it must lie in it—a theorem which conduces to the selection of a better bed.

Responsibility is not only focalized but localized. State

administration of municipal matters may centralize and definitely fix responsibility, but the persons in authority are out of each. They are not elected by the locality and they can neither be punished by it for mal-administration nor rewarded for efficiency-a condition which leads to indifference, to laxity, and often to corruption. Under home rule, the conditions are exactly reversed. The officials are near at hand where they may be watched, every act made known, misdeeds punished, and efficiency rewarded. This applies with great force to charter-making and the satisfactory character of freeholders charters is largely due to the localization of responsibility.

Home rule has also an educational value. The boy never learns to swim who refuses to enter the water. The city never learns to administer its affairs by being governed from the State capitol. Left to themselves, these western cities have made experiments and acquired valuable experience. They have adopted many ideas which are new to municipal administration; some have failed and some have succeeded; but the lessons have been well learned and the cities are wiser and stronger.

The concentration of power has a stimulating as well as sobering effect. When legislative interference is removed, the city not only says, we are thrown upon our own resources and must take more care, but also, here now is our opportunity to achieve results; the State has expressed belief in our ability to govern ourselves; we will not disappoint it. Having the power to accomplish something and seeing at last the impossibility of having one's efforts set aside by outside interference, men of ability and civic patriotism come to the fore.

This, after all, is the immediate cause of the beneficial results, for if good men are not elected as members of charter conventions, good charters will not be drafted. There have been exceptions, but generally speaking delegates to freeholders conventions have been selected from among the best men of the city. Party lines have been broken down and nominations made independent of party, or the best men of each

party placed upon a union ticket. In elections, too, party lines have not been followed. Naturally, the men selected have been of a high type, a higher type than the members of the legislature. They have been chosen for a special purpose and with their special qualifications for this work in mind. The importance of the duty to be performed has made the selections of the best men imperative, and in turn it has attracted them, just as a constitutional convention attracts the ablest men of the State. Further, a charter convention gives its whole attention to one subject and not to a multitude of unrelated topics. Every point is given careful consideration, both within and without the convention.

The States have benefited as well as the cities. By the removal of local matters from the jurisdiction of the legislature, special legislation has greatly been reduced. For several years prior to the adoption of the constitution of 1879, the legislature of California passed from 1,000 to 1,200 acts at each session. In the session of 1903, only 385 were enacted (for many years the number has not risen above 300) and of these only 19 related to city affairs. This decrease is not wholly due to the provisions for city-made charters, but in part to the general prohibition against special legislation of many kinds. But without the scheme authorizing each city to make its own charter, there would have continued to be a large number of local acts in one form or another, if we may judge from the experience of other States where they have adopted the prohibition against special legislation, but have not provided for the formation of charters by the cities themselves.

Primarily the city has benefited by this decrease in legislative interference, but not less than the State. It is now possible for legislators to give their full time and attention to matters of general interest. Heretofore, local matters absorbed most of the session. As each member was continuously busy log-rolling on some local measure, he had little time for bills of broad character and general concern. It is unjust to blame the men themselves too severely, for their constituents and the local politicians besieged them constantly. If they

rebelled or were indifferent, they were not re-elected. The locality was not wholly at fault either, for to secure the kind of government wanted, it was necessary to go to the legislature; there was no power vested in the city. The root of the evil was in the lack of home rule, and when it was granted, the legislature was free to do the work for which it was intended, viz., to enact general laws for the interest of the whole State.

In principle the system in vogue in these western States is not new. In our early history the drafting of charters by the cities themselves through some well recognized local agency, such as the common council or a specially selected charter committee or convention, was the customary plan. Even in New York, where the legislature at such an early date assumed the prerogative of enacting numerous laws relating to purely local affairs, it was a well recognized principle until well into the last century, that a law altering the charter should not be passed when opposed by the city. Even later the principal acts that were passed without first seeking local approval were acts conferring power upon the city rather than restricting its functions. The last charter convention in New York was held in 1846, and the method it suggested for charter amendments-proposals to be approved by a twothirds vote of the members of each branch of the bicameral council and afterwards ratified by the people was almost identical with the method provided a generation later in the home rule scheme of Missouri.

In the States which have suffered least from the evils of special legislation, the legislature has confined its activities to the enactment of very brief and general laws specifying in general terms only the principal features of municipal charters, leaving to the cities themselves the privilege of filling in the details and of altering them as local conditions changed. England, which is looked upon as the home of self-government, has pursued a similar course; and in France the cities likewise have been given wide discretionary powers.

The practical difference between the "freeholders charters'

« ForrigeFortsett »