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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/288

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

The principle underlying the organization of the commission system of city government is clearly in harmony with what American and English experience has shown to be the most effective working principle that may be applied to the government of cities in a democracy. The commissioner, being an elective official, can not be expected to be an expert official. Indeed, experts will never accept an office of such uncertain tenure as that subject to the fluctuating influence of politics. The commissioner may be an efficient unprofessional, supervisory official, however, acting in the same capacity as the English council committee: and in such a capacity he will reach his maximum efficiency. Under this clearly defined distribution of functions between the elective and the permanent official each official will exercise that kind of function for which he is best fitted. This proposition, clearly understood, settles the crucial point in the problem of commission government.

If the commissioner's function is defined as supervisory with respect to his relation to the administrative service, the question may arise: Will it not now become necessary to have a permanent expert department head working under the supervising commissioner? This question must be decided with reference to the character of the commissioner's duties. In the small city, where the affairs of the different divisions of the department are left to the charge of the subordinate officials, these duties would be comparatively light, and only the general direction of the activities should rest with the commissioner. Under such circumstances the commissioner would be able to direct the work without the aid of a permanent head. It is probable, on the other hand, that the work of directing one of the great departments of the very large city would be too onerous and too complex for the layman to discharge without the aid of a permanent administrative head, in which case it would be found necessary to institute the permanent official.

When it has become definitely understood that the proper functions of the commission are legislative and supervisory, and not legislative and administrative, charter framers desiring to construct upon the commission model will have a well-understood basis upon which to work, and questions which frequently perplex them at the present time will take care of themselves. For example, one of the mooted questions at present is whether the commissioner would be required to give his whole time or only a part of it. If by the charter expected to spend his whole time in the public service, obviously he is to become an active superintendent, attending to the numerous details of his department, so that any other occupation than that of the city would entail negligence and inefficiency.

With the development of the commission plan into a more distinctly supervisory character, the American people will have worked