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state civil-service commission, the direction of all public works, and the making of contracts; and in addition an ordinance or loan order filed by him with the city clerk is in force unless rejected by the council within sixty days (that is an anomaly); and, through commissioners appointed by him, he determines street licenses, including “the location of conduits, poles and posts, for telephone, telegraph, street railway, or illuminating purposes ”; and he is given an absolute veto, which cannot be overcome even with unanimity, an absolute veto over every appropriation, ordinance, order, resolution, or vote, passed by the council. A finance commission appointed by the governor of the state and paid by the city is to examine appropriations, loans, expenditures, claims, payrolls, contracts, and financial transactions, and make reports thereon. In addition the city is permitted to change certain of its departments and expressly forbidden so to do as to most of them.
This charter aroused wide interest and much discussion in meetings of various organizations and in the newspapers and at
hearings before a committee of the legislature. The Referendum
There was, of course, a general demand from the people of the city that, after action by the legislature, it should not take effect until approved by the city. The Merchant's Association and the Chamber of Commerce, five hundred in number, went to one of the hearings and recommended the enactment of the proposed charter by the legislature and a referendum to the people of Boston. Both branches of the city council, without a dissenting voice, also asked the legislature for a referendum. To this request was made a most determined opposition. The members of the commission opposed it, the mayor opposed it and employed as counsel before the legislative committee an ex-governor of the state, who opposed it, a few citizens of Boston opposed it, and many men, who did business in Boston but lived elsewhere, also opposed it. The committee made a divided report,, the majority recommending the adoption of the charter, and it was passed by both branches of the legislature, very nearly upon party lines, and was signed immediately by the governor.
Certain features of the charter were obnoxious to the Republican party organization of the city, and therefore, though the referendum upon the charter itself was refused, it was ordered upon a few features. Two groups were made. In one it was provided that the term of the mayor should be two years, the council should consist of thirty-six members, nine elected at large, and twenty-seven by wards, and that nominations might be made by party conventions in addition to nominations by petition. In the second it was approved that the term of mayor should be four years, the council should consist of nine elected at large, and all nominations must be by petition. The voters were confined to a choice between these two groups and were not permitted to make any selection between the portions, as, for instance, to favor four years for the mayor and a council of thirty-six or two years for the mayor and nomination by petition. Under such restriction it was impossible, of course, to expect any fair expression of opinion. The city chose group two.
Boston now has begun another new phase of its civic life, and in this respect it is not different from most other large cities of the United States. The contrast between the stability of the forms of city government in Europe and those here is most striking. There no change has occurred for three-quarters of a century; while here the changes have been kaleidoscopic both in variety and rapidity, so that if we may judge from the past this new phase is not likely long to continue unaltered.
It is to be regretted that the whole charter was not submitted to a vote of the people of Boston, because, among other reasons,
it begins its being not as the charter chosen Homo Rule
by Boston for itself, but as the charter imposed Violated
upon Boston by the will of the legislature. There is no other instance in the history of Massachusetts where a charter has not either been asked for by the city or, if first passed by the legislature, afterwards adopted by it. Boston naturally resents having been singled out for this unenviable distinction. It is in violation of the principle of home rule advocated by this League as a fundamental requisite for good government. There was lost the chance of a generation to carry on an educative campaign among all the people upon the concrete issues of city government. There was lost also the strongest assurance of good government in the lost opportunity to awaken in the people, as only an actual campaign can awaken it, that civic pride and enthusiasm which alone can make it probable that they will choose what is best. If the people of Boston were possessed of the same love for and pride in their city which the people of Glasgow, for instance, show, they would obtain and continue to have good government, provided always that they were left free to work out their own salvation in their own way and not thwarted and hampered by the action of the legislature. The best form of government for Boston, or for any other city, is that form which its own people have chosen for themselves and not that form, however excellent in other respects, which has been imposed upon it. It is unfortunate then that the recommendations of the Finance Commission begin their life under this serious disadvantage.
It may be said also that, so far as the mayor has been made more of an autocrat than before by giving to him an absolute
veto, this, while in keeping with the municipal Autocratic
changes of the last quarter of the nineteenth cenGovernment
tury, is entirely out of keeping with the more liberal and democratic tendencies of the first decade of the twentieth century. We have learned by experience that good government does not follow the choice of a dictator whether for two or four years. Representative government is not found in the idea or in the practice of one
man power. Moreover, the further weakening of the council will lessen the few attractions it had been allowed to retain for the service of able and vigorous men. The appointment of a new state commission having solely to do with the city of Boston, and the authority given to another state commission to enforce a different and distinct set of rules and requirements in Boston only and in no other city, are wholly wrong in principle and are sure in practice to breed discontent and friction.
The investigation of municipal finance and the requirement of a certificate of qualification for important municipal positions are not wrong in themselves. The wrong comes in their special application. So far as they are good they should be applicable to all the municipalities of the Commonwealth. The first is accomplished in Great Britain by the local government board which examines accounts and gives authority for new loans. It is an excellent supervision, never bureaucratic, and in harmony with the principles of home rule which pervade the whole local administration of the United Kingdom. The second is a further development of civil service reform.
Perhaps it is not too much to expect that the near future may bring to the metropolitan district of which Boston forms a part
some such form of government as that under Metropolitan
which metropolitan London now is administered, Government
a form which shall preserve to the several cities and towns as they now exist the full control over their local affairs and give to a central representative council full control over water, sewage, parks, main avenues, fire, police and other metropolitan matters. Then we shall have vigorous life in each locality from its unhindered control of all which belongs to it, and in the greater community we shall have the rule of the people through their own representatives in place of the present complex and undemocratic system of irresponsible state commissions. This central council must necessarily be a large body so as truly to be representative of the people of so many different and distinct localities. And preferably its members will be chosen, not at large, but by electoral districts so that the voters of every district will have their attention concentrated upon the choice only of one man and also may know the candidates. In such a community the dictator will have no place, and the autocratic mayor, an anachronism in a republic, will pass away with other medieval types of despotism.
Two things are necessary if this greater city is to succeed. First, it must be left absolutely alone by the state so long as it does not offend against state laws applicable to all, and so long as its schools, its police, its health administration, and other like services in which admittedly the state has large concern, come up to the requirements of the state. In case of offense or failure, however, the remedy is not for the state to do the work itself, but through the courts to compel performance by the local authorities. Second, it must be given the power to do the things which a modern city must do for the welfare of its people.
Few persons, unless they have made an investigation into the conditions of municipalities of Massachusetts, can have any idea
of the helpless position in which they are. They Municipal
have no right, it has been decided by our SuHelplessness
preme Judicial Court, to their own existence, to their own boundaries. These may be changed at the will and the pleasure of the legislature. They have no right to their own streets, even if they have bought and paid for them. They are mere naked trustees. Many of their officers are not considered to be city or town officers. They are elected by the city and paid by the city or town, but are state officials.
Let me give you one or two instances. At Cambridge the city desired a while ago to provide for putting certain wires in the streets into a conduit, but had no power to direct that to be done; it had to go to the legislature and ask for authority, and the legislature refused it.
Boston owned two public buildings separated by a narrow back street. In one it had a dynamo. It desired to carry a wire across this back street to the other building so that the second building might be lighted from the same dynamo which was in the first. Boston could not carry this wire between two of its own buildings, across its own street. It had to go to the legislature and ask for authority, and this was refused.
In the town of Swampscott complaint was made in regard to the members of its board of health. An investigation was made. The committee reported to the town meeting that the members had been guilty of fraudulent misconduct. The town then removed the members of the board of health. The Supreme Judicial Court decided that it had no authority so to do, that while the board was elected by the town they were state officials and could not be removed during the term of office.
So, if the selectmen of a town, or the council of a city, do anything whatever in regard to their streets, they are assumed to act not as agents of the city or town which chose them, but as officials of the state, and therefore beyond the control of the city itself.
In place of its present humiliating position, that a city can do only those few things for which distinct authority has been given,