Imágenes de páginas

them to be settled on their merits. Therefore the percentages requisite for summoning special elections should be comparatively high, while in other cases they should be reasonably moderate, and the time within which a referendum petition may be presented of sufficient length so as not to make the burden unreasonably arduous or impracticable. Experience shows that neither the initiative nor the referendum is abused by an excessive number of petitions.

Nearly every form or combination of forms in municipal government has been tried and hitherto has been more or less of a failure. Two fundamental difficulties have been experienced. The masses of the voters have been unfortunately divided by allegiance to and consideration of national or state partisan organizations. The influential and property classes have too often had financial interests at stake in the quasi-public service corporations which have prevented them from considering municipal questions with an eye solely to the general welfare of a community.

Direct legislation is of immense gain in concentrating the attention of the voters upon measures and not men. Partisan considerations can no longer dominate. Instances are numerous where party candidates have won, but the measures they advocated or had passed have been defeated.

Not only is the interference of national partisanship in municipal affairs very largely reduced and neutralized by the initiative and the referendum, but there is a simultaneous movement for its elimination by legislative enactment. The charters of the Des Moines character expressly forbid partisan designations upon the ballots.

The Washington Situation.'

Special Sociological Adviser to the President.

The changes in the government of the national capital herein proposed, were the conclusions reached after an investigation, which I undertook at the request of the President. The investigation related particularly to social conditions, but authority was also given to recommend changes affecting the machinery of the government.

In considering the absolutely unique government of the city of Washington, alias the District of Columbia, I wish to make four observations regarding its general character

1. Washington is at the present time only a geographical expression. It is, as usually understood, synonymous with the District of Columbia

which is at once a city, a county, a territory and a state. The functions of its government include many of the essentials of all these divisions of our political system. The functions of state and city predominate, but its chief officials are appointed as in case of a territory. The chief and most densely populated section of this complex political unit is known as the City of Washington, but it includes a further geographical expression, called Georgetown, and an extended outlying district. Hence the problem and concerns of the local government are primarily those of a city with such supplemental machinery as is required for county, territorial and state government.

2. The citizens of Washington have no direct share in its government. There is not even an elected, territorial legisla

1 Proposed changes in the government of the national capital.

Washington, an Expression

ture. The only instruments for the expression of public sentiment are the press, local civic organizations and the appeal of individual citizens to the President or to the Congress. It was not within the scope of my authority to investigate the desire of the citizens of the District for self-government, but I believe such desire exists, though it has not been organized, persistent, or aggressive. Furthermore, serious complications would arise in determining the basis of the franchise, and both the national parties are evidently not disposed to put themselves on record in connection therewith.

3. The ultimate governing powers of the District government are the President and the Congress. The President appoints the district commissioners subject to the approval of the Senate. The further interest of the President can be only occasional, though I have been in a position to know that The President's President Roosevelt has given much thought Interest to District matters, and has stimulated enterprise and progress and the introduction and passage of laws bettering social conditions. His recent appointment of a Homes Commission is but one illustration of his active interest.

The power of the Congress is legislative and is exercised through the committees on the affairs of the District of Columbia, of the Senate and the House. Legislation recommended by these committees is usually accepted by the Congress without much debate. The Congress has granted to the District Commissioners the powers to pass municipal ordinances and administrative regulations.

4. The executive powers of the Washington government are vested in the three Commissioners appointed by the President. These commissioners act collectively in matters of major importance, exercise the legislative powers above named and supervise and direct the various departments and bureaus of the District Government. The department of education was formerly under their jurisdiction, but a recent act of Congress has made it subject to a board of education independent of the district commissioners.

The principal changes proposed in the government of Washington, that is, of the District of Columbia, are these:

1. The substitution of a governor for three commissioners of equal authority.

2. The extension of eligibility for the chief executive office, so that the President may have power to appoint as governor either a resident of the District or a non-resident who has served at least one term as mayor of a city of not less than 50,000 inhabitants.


3. The creation of distinct departments with proper salaried officers at their head in the place of Bureaus apportioned among the three commissioners as at present.

4. The creation of a municipal council composed of the Heads of Departments.

5. The creation of a new municipal department to be called the department of housing and labor.

It will be noted that the first four recommendations relate to changes in the machinery of government, while the last deals directly with the problems of social reform. I shall make only brief comment on the first, third and fourth, dwelling more at length on the second and fifth, as presenting appropriate topics for discussion before this convention.

The substitution of a single executive for three commissioners of equal authority would be a step so clearly in the interest of definiteness of responsibility and of efficiency, as hardly to need discussion. Definite responsibility and efficiency are fundamentals of all good municipal government, and municipal reformers, are, I believe, of one mind as to their importance. I may state that I am not judging recent experiments made in a few cities of electing heads of departments and making them a board of control. Such elected officials, if I am rightly informed, are supreme in the main concerns of their own departments and their responsibilities are definite, so far as they go. The complaints most frequently made to me regarding the government of Washington, were the inability to determine responsibility and the delay occasioned by the fact that all important responsibil. ties were threefold rather than single.

The creation of distinct departments under one head in place

A Single

of several departments and bureaus under one head is recommended because of the great increase in population in Washington since the establishment of the present form of government. The proposed plan would give seven commissioners, each the clearly recognized head of a department in place of three commissioners having divided authority over two or more departments. Such heads of departments could easily be drawn from present competent bureau chiefs and from the group of able citizens who have taken an active interest in the affairs of the District.

The creation of a new municipal council is a necessary result of the proposed abolition of the offices of the district commissioners who have the power to pass ordinances. It is proposed that the seven heads of departments should constitute the municipal council. The present council composed of the commissioners gives public hearings on important measures, but its sessions have not been public. The recommendation is that the regular sessions of the council should always be public, any citizen having the right to attend.

The determination of eligibility for the position of governor of the District of Columbia merits careful consideration. Under the present system two of the district commissioners "must have been actual residents of the District for three years before their appointment, and have during that period claimed residence nowhere else." The third is detailed by the President from the Engineer Corps of the United States Army. The governor to be appointed would be the chief executive of the national capital. The position would be one of dignity demanding a high grade of efficiency and experience in municipal affairs. As Washington is the national capital, the national government paying half the expenses of its administration, and the national legislature passing its laws, it would seem appropriate that this official should be chosen from the entire country and that eligibility should be limited to successful municipal executives. In other words, it would be a position where the merit system would most appropriately apply. It is on this ground that I recommended that while citizens of the District should be

A Municipal

« AnteriorContinuar »