Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

come in these days a great co-operative business association or partnership. In addition to acting as the peace officer, and maintaining the health and convenience of the urban dweller,

as was the chief object of city government in Public Co-operation

former times, to-day the city administration

handles the city's business, with its transportation, lighting, heating, water, sewage disposal, market-house, park, play-ground, public building and other problems, and the vast and varied interests of the modern city. With this increase of official business, greater in proportion to the size of the city, there came to the individual in equal proportion a decrease in opportunity to participate, either by the expression of his will or of his opinion, notwithstanding the greater necessity for such expression.

Only at the election, perhaps once in two or three years, has the citizen an opportunity to register his approval or disapproval, and this affected, as above stated, by the partisanship of the political parties on whose platforms the candidates stand or crouch as the case may be.

Meanwhile this co-operative business enterprise, the city, involving in its operations almost fabulous amounts, is conducted with no supervision that could be called such, by the real owners, the body of citizens. And thus graft grows with opportunity and continues with immunity.

To supply the place of the town meeting, to provide for a reasonable measure of supervision, to furnish an agency for the citizenship to superintend, watch, become informed concerning and protect the city's business, it is necessary to have some kind of an organization of citizens, independent of politics or partisanship, with an eye single to the efficient, honest administration of the city's affairs. The form of this organization is not so important as the personnel of those in control. They must be fearless, energetic, reputable, respected citizens, of recognized public spirit, seeking nothing but their city's good. There are such organizations in a number of cities, doing the kind of work above outlined, and doing it effectively. The effectiveness of all such activities is dependent upon the public conscience, and this conscience in each city is dependent upon the character of the

people, the venality or independence of its press, and the criminas complacency or militant virtue of its teachers, preachers and public men.

One of the most powerful weapons against graft seldom if ever used is a suit to recover the property misappropriated. This

is perhaps more effective than criminal proseCivil Suits

cutions, because it does not arouse sympathy for to Recover

the family of the accused who, though innocent, suffer disgrace when the head of the family is imprisoned.

That a trustee who for his own profit betrays his trust can be called to account, is established law. That he may be held liable in damages for gross violation of duty, has been likewise decided. An official who corruptly receives money out of the public treasury can be made to refund, and so of property he corruptly obtains. The contractor, franchise grabber and the like, who by conspiracy with the officials of a city corruptly obtains money, franchises or property, can be made to account to the city. In these suits, the rigid rules of the criminal law would not prevail

, and evidence could be obtained which would be unavailable in a prosecution for crime. The grafter, who knew he had not only the possibility of a criminal prosecution from a vigilant organization to face, but also a suit for the recovery of his corruptlygotten gains, would find grafting not only dangerous but unprofitable. The running of the statute of limitations against the crime would open the mouth of many a co-grafter, and in many cases would subject the co-conspirator to blackmail from his erstwhile dupe. Resort to the civil courts, it is suggested, will in time go hand in hand with prosecutions in the criminal courts, and may be had where time or other cause bars entrance to the latter.

It has been and it will be said that these graft crusades accomplish no permanent good, that while perhaps temporarily held in check graft will be resumed after the agitation subsides and be as bold as before. Every such crusade is one step forward. Some ground is gained. The Tweed regime will never be resumed in New York, although there may be grafting still. But the agitation would never subside, the watchfulness never be relaxed, if such organizations, as have been suggested, were on

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

guard, backed by a healthy public sentiment. Why should a community get tired of the prosecution of grafters and grow sympathetic, more than with burglars, pickpockets and thieves ? That public sentiment is sickly which demands the punishment of one class of law-breakers and condones another, more heinous, hurtful and despicable.

Those who condemn graft prosecutions because of a fear that it will harm the city and hurt business, will bear watching. They place money above morals, policy above purity, and complacency above citizenship.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, benefit to a community accruing from a well-organized association, such as has been indicated, which actively and energetically engages in this public work, is the stimulation of the interest of the public in its own affairs, the removal of that attitude of despair, which hopelessly asks what can we do, who will undertake to correct these public evils and protect the public rights. It furnishes to the citizens an executive head to speak and act for the citizens. Every community can organize such an association if it wants to fight graft. The community that wants no graft can stop it; the community that tolerates graft wants graft, and therefore in the last analysis the indictment of grafters is the indictment of the community.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

The Development of Civic Spirit.

JOHN IHLDER, GRAND RAPIDS, MICH.,
Secretary Board of Trade Committee on Municipal Affairs.

We do not aim to be reformers, but performers. The underlying principle of our work is that if we can interest the people in the building of the city, efficiency and honesty in government will follow inevitably. This does not mean stimulating the public by a series of spectacular proposals, though, of course, these are necessary occasionally; but interesting them in the daily routine of city work, making them take in it the same steady interest that they feel in their own concerns, explaining to them

clearly both the methods and the effects of keepPerformers

ing streets clean; extending sewers and water Rather Than

mains; following an intelligent financial policy~ Reformers

subjects usually considered dry and uninteresting, but an understanding of which is necessary to intelligent and effective citizenship, and an understanding of which makes city building a game of intense interest.

With these, of course, we are constantly holding out the vision of the city of the future. It has seemed to us that the fault of militant citizens in the past has been that they have constantly fought for negatives, to lessen evil, to drive bad men out of office and that they have neglected to make routine city work attractive to the average man. So we are experimenting on the other method. We fight for positives, we assume that city officials represent the people and so we try to influence them for the city's good by making the people take an intelligent, publicspirited interest in what their officials are doing. We take no part in the selection of the candidates, basing our hopes for progress on the increasing foresight and understanding of the people whom those candidates represent. Aside from this general educational campaign which is carried on unceasingly by means of committee meetings whose discussions are published in the newspapers, by addresses delivered before neighborhood asso

ciations, by literature circulated broadcast and by civic revivals, we occasionally take definite action for the adoption by the government of some concrete measure, such as home rule, a lodginghouse ordinance, Arbor Day distribution of trees and plants.

In Grand Rapids we have not yet such tangible monuments to the success of our efforts as Harrisburg can show. We have not equalled Denver or Cleveland in the creation of great public improvements. But this is due to two causes. First, we have been at work a shorter time. Second, we have adopted a different method, slower but, we believe, destined to be much more permanent in its results. Instead of making the improvements themselves the chief objects of our endeavors, we have made them incidental. Our main object has been to arouse the people to a constructive interest in the city and its problems, to study with them its needs and resources and then to act with them in carrying out plans which commend themselves to others as well as ourselves.

This is a long-time process, but its effects, we believe, will be worth the time, for when results come they will be not merely a group of public buildings or a pure-water supply, but an active and intelligent citizenship which will give us all these things which we desire and what is more, a citizenship which will regard Grand Rapids as a common heritage in the intelligent development of which all are vitally concerned. That will mean not only specific public improvements but also honest and efficient government, wholesome and sanitary living conditions, a city designed to make the most of all its advantages so that its people may live the fullest and happiest lives.

It is difficult to trace the beginnings of any great movement, for beginnings are always obscure and the men who made those obscure beginnings, who first contended against indifference and ridicule are, while the hardest to find, those most deserving of honorable mention. There probably never was in the history of Grand Rapids or any other American city a time when there was not a small group of men striving earnestly and unselfishly for civic betterment. But it was less than two years ago that this group learned how to make the mass of the people sympathize and co-operate. Yet the work done before must not be minimized,

« AnteriorContinuar »