The city manager plan ‘exposed’
1920 Editorial Note: This satire on the opposition to the city manager form of municipal administration, from an address by M. F. Manville delivered before the Lion’s Club in Ada, Ohio, will be appreciated in every community which has discussed this kind of government.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating of the same and not in chewing the strings of the bag wherein the said pudding was cooked. The data from which my deductions are obtained is a publication put out by the City Managers Association, an organization in New York City. I consider the deductions I have made natural and customary in our political life. Candor compels me to say that I give this as the opinion of one opposed to the managerial idea.
The fact that this pamphlet comes from New York City is enough to put one on notice. How far is this office from Wall Street, that famous den of iniquity? I cannot say. The booklet states that it is a part of the Fifth Year Book. Who is paying for this and the four which have preceded it? Somebody is, and that person is expecting something in return. People do not give away something for nothing. When you hear of people giving up good money for the benefit of somebody else, look out.
There are in this booklet reports from 85 towns in 26 states which have tried out the managerial idea. Let me call your attention to the significant fact that the sum of the two digits in 85 is 13 and that 26 is twice13 and is the skiddoo number. Any reasonable man knows that these thirteens are portentous.
It is significant also that New York City, whence this publication comes, the home of this association, is not given among the 85 towns that have city managers. Evidently, they prefer Tammany Hall. Neither is Chicago, which prefers Mayor Thompson’s rule. It does not look good in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, nor St. Louis nor San Francisco. Even Oklahoma City has achieved its 35 gaily comparisoned mounted police without the services of a city manager. The largest city given is Grand Rapids, Mich., with 150,000 population, and with a declining scale it reaches Largo, Fla., with 500. One-half of these towns have less than 10,000.
Having given these preliminaries, let us consider what a city government is for as evidenced by the achievement of these 85 conceited prodigies who turn from the principles adopted and practiced by our fathers and sail the uncharted sea of a managerial form. The commission form with its non-partisan idea is bad enough, and must have sprung from a mind unbalanced by belonging to a minority party that saw no hope in the future, and sought office via the citizen’s ticket or the non-partisan route. The non-partisan idea is contrary to the Bible, as is this manager business, both of which seek “to muzzle the ox that treads out the corn.”
What can be the reward of party fealty if the plums are to go to any but the faithful who have borne the heat and burden of the day? Where would these United States be if we had followed that idea? Who are we to spurn the examples of Jackson, Calhoun, Mark Hanna, Frank Hitchcock, Gore and Williams? Such luminaries as these have watched over our destiny, and today the United States is the greatest nation in the world. Wise counsel says, “Let well enough alone.”
We must look the facts in the face. We all belong to some party and we are for that party. Our governmental system is built to conform to that idea. Party success is founded on party labor, and party labor is, and must be, paid for with political jobs. If you want to overthrow the republic, abandon partisan politics.
Now let us get down to cases, as the lawyers say. What great reforms and benefits do these people boast? What great things might we expect at the hands of the city manager? The following are not the emanations of a jaundiced mind. I do not look with distorted vision; I merely give you what they themselves say.
One says, “We have installed municipal bath-houses.” They fail to state what night is bath night; and what is the penalty for failure to report to the city manager for ablutions. Gentlemen, in these days when personal liberty has become a byword, and pantry, closet and cellar may be invaded with impunity, it makes the heart sick to see still further inroads on our personal rights. Can you not see in the not-too-distant future some fireside where sits a weeping wife, bowed with grief, her children clinging to her skirts crying, “Oh, mother! Where is father tonight?” only to learn that he has been torn from the bosom of his family and ruthlessly hurled by a brutal city manager into the municipal vat?Another boasts of a reduced tax rate, another money saved, and another a cash balance in the bank. Heavens! What next? My friends, what is a government for, pray tell? Past and present both speak the answer — a government is to spend money. It is not a savings bank any more than it is a bath-house or a nursery. The more you spend, the greater the government. Good government costs good money and lots of it.
Look at the dear old U.S.A.! Do you want men to raise up a generation of tightwads? Finances are a simple matter. The banker may tell you different, but that is only to cloud the issue so that he can charge you a higher rate of interest or draw the mortgage tighter. Finance is easy. The more taxes you collect, the more money you have to spend. If you do not get it to spend, it is because you did not vote right, which is your fault and not that of the partisan system. Get on the bandwagon.
Some cities have established hospitals. They do not say anything about undertakers, but that is probably understood, and comes under the head of protective improvements for next year. Some have employed city nurses and have even established dairy stations for baby milk.
I suppose the city nurse is to hold the manager’s hand when he is not employed in looking after somebody’s personal bath habits or looking up some property that has escaped taxation. As to the supplying of babies with milk, the said city manager is selected, I presume, with reference to his experience and skill in fixing the baby’s bottle.One newly elected manager drafted and passed two ordinances, one to prevent the posting of political advertisements on trees and poles. This certainly is in strict violation of the liberties granted under the constitution. The other ordinances required the dairies to be whitewashed and the cows scrubbed. I have heard of whitewashing an administration when it is over, but this is certainly a plea of guilty before the offense to begin with a coat of whitewash.
What perils would certainly attach if a citizen moved from one town to another! In one town his cow was scrubbed and in another he himself the victim. When he saw the city manager coming up the street with the Gold Dust Twins he wouldn’t know whether it was he or the cow that was going to get it.
Now who advocates this new system? Is it the weary and toilworn wage-worker plodding home after five hours of toil bent under the load of his day’s wages? Does he turn in at the city hall, asking to have his toe nails manicured and his cow whitewashed? No. It is the white-collared crowd who hob-nob in the hotel, leaving their wives at home unprotected and unfed who seek to wish off on the unsuspecting public a city manager.One city of over 50,000 held public dances on the smooth pavement, and their own statement says, “There were 5,000 present and everybody danced.” Comment on this feature alone would prolong this meeting past the supper hour. Even the selling of necessities during war time when prices were prohibitive — potatoes at 50 cents per bushel under the market, and fish daily imported and sold at 10 cents per pound under the market — and the developing of nearby coal fields during the fuel famine to save the people from starving and freezing, is no virtue if they danced themselves warm.
Such, gentlemen, are the arguments against the managerial system. Were I an orator with the gifts of some of our officials I might paint the scenes plainer, but they would be no different, and what I have said here in a crude way is what you will meet when you advocate this new system.
I have not and could not anticipate all the arguments against this thing, but I venture to say that any others will merely differ in detail and not in substance.
The supreme question facing our city and country today is whether we shall be able to keep before our eyes the ideal we have gained in the war and apply it to the reconstruction of St. Louis and of the nation. For the true issue of the war is the issue of the new century — the need for socializing and democratizing the modern industrial community. And the war must have taught the least discerning among us what may be accomplished when all elements work together for the common good. … Emulation will be the keynote of the twentieth century, and the city that neglects it will fall hopelessly behind. Other cities of America with fewer natural resources than St. Louis are beginning to be keenly alive to the fact that beauty and art, comfort, cleanliness, opportunities for rational amusements, and desirable homes and surroundings for the workers and families of moderate means are also essentials. Winston Churchill, “The Supreme Question Facing Our City and Country Today,” January 1919 A catalog showing many varieties of bubbling [drinking] fountains suitable for public buildings, schools, parks, playgrounds, etc., is issued by the Rundle-Spence Manufacturing Company, Milwaukee, Wis. This catalog also illustrates combination type fountains for men, horses and dogs, some of which are equipped with electric globes on the top.”Bubbling Fountains for Indoor and Outdoor Use,” January 1919 The earliest method of cleaning hard-surfaced city streets was scraping by hand, commonly called “the patrol system.” This proved effective in removing the coarser material as long as the individual scraper was faithful to his work.”Keeping the Pavements Clean,” February 1919 As a class, they are a menace to the community into which they come. They represent commercial amusements at their very worst, not merely because of cheapness and vulgarity, but rather because of brazen defiance of civic future and moral decency.”The Menace of Traveling Carnivals,” October 1922
Police departments employing both men and women recognize the value of the contribution made by women in special patrol work, in interviews and in investigation of cases. In some police departments women receive much lower salaries than the men; in many they receive equal pay, although the women as a rule are better educated, and have some kind of special training and experience before entering the service.”Municipal Policewomen — Their Duties and Opportunities,” August 1921 A board of censors appointed by the Commissioner of Public Safety in Newark deemed a film called “The Naked Truth” unfit for exhibition in a movie theater, although the head of the city Board of Health saw nothing objectionable in it. The censors thought it objectionable unless presented in a Y.M.C.A. auditorium, a school or a church without charge. The Court failed to see “why a play, objectionable in itself, is made less so by allowing the public to see it in a church and for nothing.” “Theatrical Censorship is not an inherent Power of Cities,” February 1927
Autocracy is, or has been, a menace to mankind — the German Empire taught us that. But so is a democracy without education: it degenerates into Bolshevism, or anarchism, or some other dangerous “ism;” it is filled with people having sick minds, sick bodies and sick souls. The danger of letting these diseased people run governments has been made apparent last year and this year as never before in the history of the world. … Nearly all the evils that still exist in city, state and national governments are due either to this lack of education or to miseducation. What is the remedy? Newark, N.J., has been working at this problem for a number of years.”Training a City in Civics,” March 1919
The average well, viewed from the standpoint of a health officer, is a public scandal. We lustily sing the “Old Oaken Bucket,” a mass of sentimental twaddle, which, if facts could be set down in cold figures, would be proved to be responsible for hundreds of cases of typhoid annually. Why is it that we are so slow to realize that the water in the well is nothing but the water which falls on the surface of the ground, and, after leaching all the organic matter with which it comes in contact, collects in a man-made cavity?Harry E. Barnard, “The Relation of a Private Well to Typhoid,” June 1919
P.V. Gahan, Superintendent, Board of Recreation, Bridgeport, Conn., writes, “No regulations on (swim) suits. We find the public fairly sane on this matter, and prescribing the inches above the knee, etc., is all tommy-rot.””Bathing Suits and Bathing-Beach Regulations,” June 1923
It constituted disorderly conduct, for which prosecution lay under the statutes of New Jersey, to call a member of a city council, at a public session of that body, a “bootlegger,” but not to call him a “souphead.” “Items of Municipal Law,” July 1926 No longer do we assume that a man is truly American, in attitude and in action, merely because he happens to have been born within our country’s confines. The conviction has been brought home, rather, that it is in large measure the un-American attitude of the native-born that has made the Americanization of the immigrant so difficult.”Americanization — the Broad View,” January 1924
The very fact that so many of the librarians are now women does womankind honor as having qualities of, and aspirations to, culture.”How About Your Community Library?” June 1924
Dynamite was freely used by the municipal authorities of Wilmington [Del.] in their plans to beautify the south entrance to that city by clearing up marshes. “Unsightly Marshes Drained by Dynamiting,” October 1926 Only recently a New York high school pupil and a band of younger boys were found taking away a part of some park playground paraphernalia under cover of darkness. Fortunately, they were caught, and their parents were summoned to court and fined $5 each. Their appreciation of the situation may be gathered from the fact that after they had paid the fines they asked to have the playground paraphernalia that was detached and stolen surrendered to them on the theory that they had paid for it.Joseph P. Hennessy, “The Cure for Vandalism in City Parks,” June 1920
The advent of zero weather, the latest murders and divorces and even the suburban earthquake were shoved into minor positions in our newspapers to make room for the announcement of Mayor Nichols that he thought well of the suggestion for imposing a fee for automobile parking in Boston and that he requested the Street Commissioners to adopt it. “A Fee to Park on Boston’s Streets?” March 1926
We and other motorists must rid ourselves of the delusion of grandeur such as afflicted the German Kaiser and his crowd. We must get over thinking that we are the lords of the highway, that the pedestrian must jump when we blow our horn, and that if he is anything less than 100 percent watchful and agile, it is his fault when we hit him. Sidney Williams, “For a Working Partnership of Police and Public,” September 1925
When a plan to exempt certain new industries from city taxes for a period of five years was put before the citizens of Cairo, Ga., at a special election recently, every vote cast was recorded in its favor. “Unanimous Vote for Tax-Exemption Plan in Cairo, Ga.,” August 1926
On August 25, 1920, the last five fire horses in service in the New York City Fire Department, Borough of Manhattan, were retired when Engine 47 and its tender were driven out of the station at West 113th Street and were replaced by a new 7-ton combination motor and hose wagon.”Borough of Manhattan Completes Motorization of Fire Department,” October 1920
In 1912, 1,163 boys and 90 girls appeared in [Buffalo’s juvenile court]. In 1913, 1,161 boys and 115 girls appeared. After investigation, we found that the usual causes contributed to the delinquency of these children — inadequate education, intemperate parents, broken homes, poverty, bad housing conditions, segregation of races, and indifferent community, and lack of playgrounds.George E. Judge, “Juvenile Delinquency in Buffalo,” April 1919
The question of garbage disposal has been a serious one for years, not only in Lansing, Mich., but in other cities as well. … Not until the present system of disposal by feeding to hogs was inaugurated under municipal control did the garbage question begin to be less troublesome. There is no theoretical reason why garbage should be bad for hogs. Even putrefying materials may be transformed into delicious human food; for example, lobsters, crabs, shrimp, etc., feed almost exclusively on decaying fish, and the common barnyard chicken will eat and thrive on almost all kinds of so-called filth. In the eating of garbage-fed pork, one will find the meat much sweeter in taste than the corn-fed pork.E.C.V. Schubel, “Profit in Garbage-Fed Hogs,” September 1919
On August 25, 1920, the last five fire horses in service in the New York City Fire Department, Borough of Manhattan, were retired when Engine 47 and its tender were driven out of the station at West 113th Street and were replaced by a new 7-ton combination motor and hose wagon. Joseph “Borough of Manhattan Completes Motorization of Fire Department,” October 1920
There are practically no opponents of daylight saving among the residents of municipalities. The opposition that caused Congress to repeal this health-giving measure over the President’s veto was largely representative of rural districts. There is only one way by which cities can obtain the added hour of daylight, and that is by local ordinance. Some confusion, it is true, may result, but that the confusion so resulting is not serious, is evidenced by the fact that Detroit and Cleveland operated on the daylight saving plan long before it became a national law.Samuel A. Welldon, “Let Us Have Daylight Saving,” November 1919
Think of it — here was a legless man given a license to operate a high-power car in the congested streets of this city! As another instance, my attention was directed to a man who is about 90 per cent blind who has a license to operate an automobile and who has been responsible for upwards of a dozen accidents on the streets of the city.New York Police Commissioner Richard Enright, “How State Licensing Menaces Safety in City Streets,” January 1923