Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

The Legislature of a State has its own proper duties to perform, to wit: that of providing good laws for the internal government of the State, with which the choice of a Senator of the United States has no natural connection; and the members of a State Legislature should be chosen solely with reference to these, their proper duties, and not with reference to their probable votes for this or that candidate for Senator.

It is obvious, too, that the distribution of Assembly and Senatorial districts in the State may, at times, be such that a majority of the members of the Legislature, although freshly chosen, do not represent the popular majority in the State. In such instances, a Senator may be chosen who is not in accord with a majority of the people, and who, in such case, does not represent the State at large, as he properly should do. I can see no good reason for devolving the election of a Senator upon the Legislature; while the arguments against doing so are many, and, it seems to me, unanswerable. The people are quite as capable of electing a Senator by their own direct vote as they are of electing a Governor; and there is no need of delegating the important power of choosing a Senator of the United States to any electoral body.

NEW YORK CITY.

The recent exposure of great wrongs in the administration of the local government in the city of New York, has aroused public attention, to an extraordinary but wholesome extent, to the necessity of a reform in the conduct of public affairs. In that city especially, the people have spoken in a way which must not be misinterpreted. They demand an improvement in the condition of their local government through legislation, which shall have in view neither party nor personal . but the permanent general good. The limits of this message forbid a discussion of the causes which, for a long time, have been contributing to the results recently laid bare. For many years the city had not had a charter under which it was possible for its people, even if they had been willing to attend to their own interests, to have secured an efficient and faithful local government. At one time governed under local laws which failed to fix responsibility anywhere, at other times under varied, disconnected and irresponsible commissions, created to enable minorities in the city to exert political control; confusion, mismanagement and extravagance were apparent to every one, but the responsible authors thereof were concealed under the complicated machinery which was unwisely substituted for a simple government of the people. In my first annual o to the Legislature, while calling attention to evils then existing, I sai “Every dollar paid for taxation should draw with it direct responsibility, and every officer should feel himself at all times on trial for his public acts. No party could then long maintain local ascendancy which did not nominate its best men for office, and did not by economy and good government, make their control of affairs consistent with the interests of the people;” and I added: “No good government can be secured to any great city unless it shall have one responsible head, in whom shall be vested all executive power, and to whom, as the elected representative of the people, all departments charged with executive duties shall be directly and summarily responsible and accountable. If, with this as the fundamental idea, a plan shall be devised which will give to the

olitical minority within the city a just representation in its councils, we shall, doubtless, secure better results in municipal government than have ever before been attained.”

The same views, excepting those upon minority representation, had been, on several occasions, in nearly the same language, urged by me while mayor of New York, and were reiterated in my second annual message, as Governor, in 1870. During the session of 1870 the present New York charter was enacted. It received very extensive favor from the press, and passed by a nearly unanimous vote of both Houses of the Legislature; another form of charter, submitted to them previously at the same session, having been, by a decided vote, rejected. As a whole, the charter adopted was a great improvement on the then existing condition of things. By its provisions, and those of a law passed almost simultaneously with it, the former board of supervisors, the members of which had been designated in such a manner as to leave the people practically no choice in the selection of them, and against whose management of public affairs the complaints had been, for a long time, many and loud, was abolished, and aldermen, elected by the people at large under the new charter, were substituted. It broke up the irresponsible district commissions in which the city government proper had been substantially merged, and provided for new departments, embracing every branch of public duty, to be organized by the mayor of the city. It restored to the people of the city their constitutional right of local self-government, of which they had been for many years deprived. It defined the responsibility of those in authority; so that, in case of wrong-doing, the people could tell at once upon whom to cast the blame. It was a first step in reform, casting aside, as it did, a very vicious system of government, the evils of which had long been manifest to many, and are now manifest to all. It was not an unusual mistake, that in providing a remedy for then existing evils, others, likely to come out of the remedy itself, were overlooked. This was the fatal error in the legislation which, many years ago, transferred the government of the city from the people to irresponsible commissions. It will need great caution to avoid like mistakes in framing a new charter. The chief defect of the present charter is in recognizing the mistaken doctrine of the congressional tenure of office law, whereby a subordinate in administrative duties is made independent of the appointing power, instead of being subject to summary removal by the chief executive officer for cause satisfactory to him. The length of term of office assigned to some of the departments would not have been found, in practice, objectionable, if the power had been given to the mayor to iemove, summarily, for misconduct. As a substitute for this wholesome power of removal, it was provided, in harmony with the erroneous doctrine so prevalent of late years—that good administration is to be secured by scattering instead of concentrating responsibility—that the mayor should have no power over the subordinate officers, in case of misconduct, except to accuse them before the court of common pleas, as the means (and the only means) of removing them from office, while the mayor himself was not made subject to removal, by the Governor. A somewhat lengthened tenure of office in some departments of the tity government, such as are created to carry out, or to administer some special work, may be, for many reasons, desirable; and is not objectionable, if the power be given to the mayor to remove, for cause, to be publicly assigned by him. The parks of the city and the Croton aqueduct have been thus administered from the beginning. All officers connected

|SENATE Journal.] 4

with the general administration of the city affairs, the comptroller, the counsel to the corporation, the chamberlain and others, should be appointed by the mayor, with or without the consent of the aldermen, be removable by him, and go out of office with him at the end of his term, as a matter of course. My judgment is not in favor of requiring the consent of the board of aldermen to appointments. To do so leads to a division of responsibility and opens the way for bargains whereby one appointment may be dependent for its confirmation upon the consent of the mayor to give other places to favorites of the aldermen. Though the charter was not all it should have been, it was the best that could then be obtained, and it promised relief from great and long continued wrong, under which the people of the city had been suffering, and from a system of government, the abuses under which are now coming to light. The misconduct, recently exposed, was not a consequence from any of its provisions. The responsibility for the wrong-doing, which has very justly aroused public indignation, does not rest so much upon the charter as upon individuals who held office in the city before the charter was passed, and took office also under it. The difficulty with the charter, in this connection, is that it provided no means for summary removal from office. The auditing of the alleged claims against the former county government to the extent of six millions of dollars and upward, to which the public attention has been chiefly directed, was made not under the charter, but under a clause in the bill commonly called the New York county taxlevy; a clause, perhaps not objectionable in itself, if the powers which it conferred had been faithfully and carefully executed. #. annual taxlevy of New York should no more be made up by the Legislature than that of any other county. It has been the practice for many years, to have the city tax-levies passed upon by the Legislature, and this has been the occasion of great abuse; the estimates of the city authorities being almost always largely increased by the Legislature. One of the good results looked for from the enactment of the present charter and other laws passed at the same time, was the abolition of the practice of bringing the city tax levies into the Legislature. I allude to these facts not because I would recommend retaining the present charter, but because I think they ought to be known and understood. Many of the provisions of this charter cannot, in my judgment, be improved upon, but it is under popular disfavor, and I recommend its repeal and the enactment of a new one in which all that is good of the old one may be retained, all that is evil rejected, and all that is defective remedied. The people of the city have, by their recent concerted and intelligent action, proved their capacity to manage their own affairs, and to redress their own wrongs. They demand of the Legislature now, not a return to systems which have upon trial proved to be failures, but the establishment of the wisest and best form of a strictly local government; the prominent features of which shall be executive power and responsibility in its mayor, clear and well defined accountability of all officials and frequent opportunities for the people to rid themselves of a local administration not faithful to their interests. It would not be wise for the State to take any part of the responsibility for the management of the local affairs of New York city. . It is the duty of the State to give to the city a good organic law under which its people can manage their

own affairs and protect their own interests, and then let them understand distinctly that success depends on their own willingness to attend to their public duties. If they will not give attention to their own affairs, no form of charter nor provision of law can secure to them good government. Municipal wrongs are not to be cured by the mere passage of a new law, however perfect in its structure; and it is certain that any charter framed to promote personal or partisan interests, will have, as it deserves to have, a brief existence.

New York city needs a permanent charter, as well as a good one; one which cannot be nullified or substantially repealed by the surreptitious insertion of a clause in a tax levy, or some other bill, or even by a specific law, with any and every change in the persons composing the Legislature. The charter of a city of a million inhabitants should be as well considered, as permanent and almost as sacred as the Constitution of a State. It should not only provide for the organization and conduot of the various departments of the local government, and clothe it with power to raise by annual tax the money necessary for its maintenance, but it should limit and restrict its power to create debts, except, by the consent of its people, expressed in a formal and authoritative manner. In this respect it would be well if we could imitate in part at least our own State Constitution, which, after providing sinking funds for the payment of existing debts, forbids the creation of any new indebtedness, except with the express consent of the people, for some single work or object to be specified in the law, which must provide also for a direct tax to pay the interest every year, and the principal in a specified period. This permanent character cannot, however, be secured to a charter, without an amendment to our State Constitution.

In framing a new charter, now, the following point should be kept prominently in view:

1st. Fixing the responsibility for good administration of all city affairs upon the mayor; and to this end giving him full power of appointment and removal of all heads of departments, except the police.

2d. Giving the people an early opportunity for a new election of local officers.

3d. Making the mayor subject to removal by the Governor, for malfeasance in office or neglect of duty.

4th. Providing for a police department, with three commissioners, to be appointed as follows: one by the mayor, one by the chief judge of the court of common pleas, and one by the chief judge of the Superior Court, to be removable, any of them, as in the case of sheriffs, by the Governor for cause. A board thus constituted and so subject to removal would be, as it ought to be, a strictly local board, subject to the same State supervision as sheriffs, who are conservators of the peace in their respective counties, and as free as any board could possibly be from the danger of improper personal or partisan influence.

5th. Requiring full monthly publication of all receipts and expenditures, and of all bonds issued, and frequent publication also of all contracts made by any department, with a statement of the general operations of each department and of their pay-rolls.

6th. Concentrating the responsibility of those composing what may be termed the legislative branch of the city government, by constituting this of only one board, a board of alderman not 100 numerous: this board, with the mayor, acting as supervisors, levying all taxes. A second board is not necessary. The common council is not called upon to

pass laws, but to manage the affairs of a corporation. To divide it into two boards has the effect simply of scattering responsibility, weakening the sense of responsibility and dividing the watchfulness of the public. Making the board to consist of too many members will tend to the same evil results. If any plan can be devised for giving in the legislative branch of the city government, by election, a just and proportionate representation to the minority, it would be a wholesome improvement. In carrying out such a purpose, great care must be exercised lest the choice of their representatives be, practically, taken out of the hands of the people, as in the instance of the late board of supervisors, which was the worst device of modern times in connection with local government. The candidates named by either party were sure of being returned. The proper purpose of minority representation is to secure to the minority the opportunity of being heard in the public councils, without nullifying the rightful control of the majority or relieving it from its just responsibility. 7th. Providing that there shall be no debt created except for some single work or object by authority of law, and also under an ordinance to be submitted to or approved by the people of the city; every ordinance and law authorizing a debt to contain a provision for the extinguishment of the same within a fixed period; or else, giving to the mayor an absolute veto upon all ordinances creating or increasing the city debt. Upon all other ordinances, his vote should not be overruled except by the vote of three-fourths of all the members elected to the board of aldermen; and in the case of ordinances containing several items of appropriation of money, he should have power to veto some of them while approving of others. 8th. Giving compensation to all officers and appointees of the city government by fixed salaries and not by fees. 9th. Providing some well-defined, summary, and effectual remedy in the courts for tax-payers against abuses of trust by municipal officers, with the right also given to them, under proper restrictions, to examine from time to time the affairs of any of the departments. 10th. Providing that the acceptance of any office in, under or connected with the State government or the federal government shall vacate any office held by the same person in or under the municipal government, and that no person shall hold more than one office, at }. same time, in or under the municipal government. These suggestions, although made with especial reference to New York city, will apply generally to all large cities. City charters must, of .# according to population and circumstances, differ more or less in detail. What is needed in a city of a million of people, would not be required in one of fifty or a hundred thousand; and a general law aiming at entire uniformity in such characters is, in my judgment, not desirable. The people of any city, with a charter embracing the general rovisions to which I have referred, can, if they choose, keep up a simple, onest and efficient local government; and under such a charter, if they will frown down corruption among the seekers as well as the holders of office; if they will condemn the lavish expenditure of money before election to secure office as earnestly as the stealing of it afterward; if they will make those who ask their suffrages understand that the candidate who by money demoralizes the elector is as much a criminal as the representative who takes a bribe; if they will bear in mind that spasmodic reform movements work no permanent good, but that a persistent

« AnteriorContinuar »