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LEGISLATIVE POWERS. In considering the question of the legislative powers to be conferred upon The City of New York, we have been met in the first instance by the question whether any city legislature should exist at all. It has been contended that the affairs of the City are entirely or almost entirely of a business nature, and that no city legislature is really necessary except for the adoption of what may properly be called administrative rules and regulations. In this view the Commission is unable to concur. There will be many questions relating to the development and internal administration of the City which must be the constant subject of legislation as the City grows and as new and unforeseen conditions arise. Unless a city legislative body exists, there must be constant legislation by the State as to the affairs of the City, and the embarrassment arising therefrom in municipal administration is generally acknowledged. To what extent the State should in the interest of the people of the whole State enact and administer laws with reference to the aflairs and government of cities is a question which we have not deemed it our duty to consider. But so strongly have many well-informed persons felt with reference to the practice of constant State legislation concerning matters of purely local administration that the adoption of a constitutional amendment has been urged, prohibiting the State Legislature from passing any special laws not made applicable to all the cities of the State. The Commission is not prepared to recommend so radical a constitutional change as this; but it may be pointed out that many of the objects of such an amendment might be effected at once if both houses of the Legislature, by some changes in their rules, were to refuse to consider any bills which related to subjects of local interest and with which cities were themselves competent to deal.
The Commission in passing upon the question of the legislative powers of the City has substantially adopted the views, which are well expressed in the report of the Commission
that framed the present Greater New York Charter, from which we quote as follows:
· The charter has been constructed upon the principle that it is expedient to give to the city all the power necessary to conduct its own affairs. The commission has accordingly conferred upon the municipal assembly legislative authority over all the usual subjects of municipal jurisdiction.
The city, as the commission has constituted it, has within itself all the elements and powers of normal growth and development, making it unnecessary to have habitual recourse as hitherto to the legislature of the state for additional powers--a serious evil, and in the past the source of much abuse. These powers-great, varied and even complex as they necessarily are-will, when scrutinized, be seen to be no greater than the city requires and to be always legislative in their character. They are such as the municipalities of England and of Europe, as well of this country, constantly exercise.
“ This does not mean that under the proposed charter the city can change the structure of its own government. Whatever powers it will have it will receive as a grant from the state to enjoy in the form that they are given, and the state alone can modify the grant. Neither does it mean that the city can do what it will in every possible direction. It is tied up in many ways by old laws that are continued because they have been justified by experience. But it does mean that the city is believed to be equipped with power to decide for itself what it will do within the well recognized range of ordinary municipal activity."
But, although it was the purpose of the former Commission to confer upon the City this large measure of self-government, it has been found in practice that difficulties which perhaps could not reasonably have been anticipated have rendered the provisions of the Charter ineffectual to carry out such purposes. The 5 checks and safeguards” which it was thought necessary to place upon the action of the various municipal bodies are so numerous, and the powers of legislation are so minutely subdivided and so widely distributed, that it has proved
extremely difficult and often impossible, to secure prompt results upon other than routine matters. Our cffort has, therefore, becn to facilitate local legislation, to simplify the governmental machinery and to remove some of the impediments to effective action.
An illustration of the course we have pursued in this regard will be found in considering the provisions of section 47 of the present Charter, which we have renumbered as section 43. Under that section the local legislature now has
“power to make, establish, alter, modify, amend and repeal all ordinances, rules, police, health, park, fire and buiding regulations, not contrary to the laws of the state, or the United States, as they may deem necessary to carry into effect the powers conferred upon the city of New York by this act, or by any other law of the state, or by grant, and such as it may deem necessary and proper for the good government, order and protection of persons and property, and for the preservation of the public health, peace and prosperity of said city and its inhabitants."
These powers we have continued. The present Charter, however, also confers large legislative power upon the Health, Police, Park, Fire, Dock and Building Departments to the exclusion of the local legislature, and it further provides that almost every modification of existing ordinances affecting any of these departments must originate with the department concerned and must be adopted or rejected by the Municipal Assembly without amendment. The Commission recommends that all such limitations upon the powers of the local legislature be repealed, and that all powers of legislation and all powers of fixing salaries be taken away from the administrative departments. It also recommends that a great variety of local subjects enumerated in the second schedule, annexed to the bill amending the Charter, be included within the legislative powers.
It is, of course, possible that under this system there may often be an unwise exercise of power; but the Commission
believes that a safeguard against reckless or improvident legislation will be found in the provision that every head of department shall have a seat in the Board of Aldermen; also in the large and increased powers of legislation vested in the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and in the stringent provisions relative to the Mayor's power of veto. Even at the risk of occasional serious mistakes it seems to us that it will be preferable to confer this meaşure of legislative independence upon the City authorities rather than to retain checks which only result in furnishing opportunities for unreasonable obstruction and necessitate continual resort to the State Legislature. The Commission believes that such a change will be welcomed by the State Legislature and that, if the voters of the City can be compelled to rely solely upon themselves, a better public spirit will be aroused; that better men will be elected to the local legislature as the opportunities of its members for useful public service are increased; and that thus will be created a free, self-governing community, subject to State control only upon matters of general State policy which are enforced uniformly throughout the State. It is in such a community alone that efficient, economical, progressive municipal government can be looked for.
COMPOSITION OF THE LOCAL LEGISLATURE.
The expression of opinion on the part of all who have addressed the Commission, is that there is no necessity that the City Legislature should be composed of two branches, a Council and a Board of Aldermen, that such a legislature has furnished opportunities which have too often been availed of for mere obstruction, and that every consideration of efficiency and honesty in the government of the City demands that the City Legislature should consist of a single house. As to the composition of that house, great divergence of opinion exists among those who have addressed us.
The Commission, on full consideration of the subject, recommends that the Council should be abolished and the Board of Aldermen retained, with an increased membership. A numerous body is thought desirable, because the mere fact its being small will not improve the character of its membership; because the larger the body the more difficult it will be to improperly influence it; because in a large body there will always be some who will be vigilant to oppose bad measures ; and because by making the districts smaller the body will be representative of a greater variety of interests and localities. There is some advantage in retaining the name of the Board of Aldermen, because the people in the several districts of the city are usually acquainted with the Alderman and frequently call upon him for advice or assistance in various ways, thus giving a neighborhood side to his office not prescribed by statute, which is more likely to do good than harm.
A further reason for constituting a somewhat numerous legislative body will be found in the provisions referred to below, for the formation of Local Improvement Boards consisting of the members of the Board of Aldermen from the Local Improvement districts.
We recommend that the Board of Aldermen shall consist of its President, elected by the City at large, of the Presidents of the several Boroughs, and of members elected from each of the Aldermanic Districts provided for in the act. The Aldermanic districts are to be formed after the next legislative apportionment by dividing each assembly district within the city into two parts of equal size, provision being made for readjusting these districts after each decennial reapportionment. It has seemed, however, to the Commission that it would not be just, nor would it afford a fair trial to the proposed plan of a single legislative body, to put this system of representation into immediate operation, in view of the very great inequality now existing in the populalation of the several assembly districts. The last apportion