In Sever 11 last evening, Mr. Francis C. Lowell of the Board of Overseers spoke on the "Concentration of Responsibility in Municipal Government." His remarks were based on his observations during three years of service on the Common Council of Boston. By our constitutional form of government the power is greatly divided and divided power means divided responsibility. This division makes the national and state government very expensive and causes not a little inefficiency. The same theory of government has been carried down into the cities The mayor corresponds to the president and there are legislative bodies which have functions similar to those of the two houses of Congress. There is, however, no judicial department in the cities. In the municipal government, then, we have also a division of responsibility but there is not the same necessity for it. Our city governments as a rule, are not inefficient but the rule has exceptions. There is a lack of system and the various departments clash. Public institutions are much more expensive and less efficient than the same institutions would be were they in private hands. Owing to the general inefficiency of municipal government, it is practically impossible to increase their powers Most of the inefficiency is due to the division of responsibility. To illustrate these evils, suppose there is a vacancy in the municipal government. The mayor is immediately surrounded by a horde of office-seekers, most of them members of the board of Aldermen which confirms the mayor's appointee. They compel him to appoint the man they want or refuse their confirmation. As a rule the mayor is forced to make a "deal." The appointee, too, must pledge himself to whatever the confirming board demands. This is the condition under which many of the appointments are made. The trouble lies in the division of the responsibility between the mayor and the board of aldermen. Similar trouble arises with the legislative body. These are but types of the difficulties which beset all departments of the municipal government.
In English cities responsibility is concentrated in the legislative bodies; the mayor is but their chief. In America the tendency is directly the opposite.
One of the advantages of concentrating the power in the power in the mayor is that the man whom the people hold responsible would be able to act. For the last six years nearly one-half of the confirming board have been corruptible. Such a statement would be vastly too strong to apply to the average of the mayor. Therefore the appointments would be much better, if the mayor were not subject to a confirming board. The mayor's responsibility is much greater than that of the board of aldermen, for there is not one man in a thousand who would ever think of blaming the latter.
In the case of ordinances, the superiority of having their issuance in the hands of the mayer is manifest from his superiority of character. The same would be true in the case of appropriations.
There are serious objections, both practical and theoretical, to granting the mayor the principal power. The want of publicity of his actions would be one trouble. But this could be remedied by passing an act permitting any one to inspect the proceedings of the government. It is probably not wise to go very far at present. The change would be too great. Reforms must be brought about gradually. Nevertheless, some changes should be made now. The mayor should be given absolute direction of appointments and approvals and the executive department of the government The common council should devote itself to legislative purposes only. But no change will bring about the millenium and until then, no government can work perfectly.