THE ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEM


In 1870, another experiment was made in city government by the establishment of what is known as the "administrative system." The government of the municipality was vested in a mayor and seven administrators elected on a general ticket. Each of these administrators presided over a separate department of the city government. They were severally administrators of finance (about equivalent to comptroller), commerce, improvements (similar to a commissioner of public works), assessments, police, public accounts (treasurer), water works and public buildings. Some of these titles were more or less absurd and did not cover the duties of the office held by the administrator. Thus the city had practically no control over assessments and there was no reason why it should have an administrator of assessments, and as it parted with its control of the water-works in 1877 there was equally little reason why it should have an administrator of water-works. However, each administrator had certain executive duties to perform. The mayor and the seven administrators were constituted a city council for local purposes, thus combining the executive and legislative branches of government in one body.

This council was too small to have committees, and each administrator was allowed freedom in his special department. Weekly meetings of the council were held to consider general municipal matters; but they were, from the very small number of members, necessarily of a somewhat informal character.

Judge W. W. Howe, in his "Municipal Government of New Orleans," expresses the opinion that the administrative system, 1870-82, was the best the city had ever had. This view, however, it is difficult to accept, and Judge Howe's opinion was probably based on the fact that the municipal government of New Orleans was exceptionally bad at the time he wrote his pamphlet. The administrative system had the advantage of compactness and of working quickly. There was no danger of a conflict between the legislative and administrative branches, as is so frequently the case in American cities. The administrators fully understood the legislation coming before them, and vice versa, since they first made laws for themselves and then carried them out. It is admitted that the conncilmanic system is slow and cumbrous; but it is sometimes wise to "go slowly" in legislation, and to give the people time to consider and pass on public matters. The new system was naturally more secret, and the people knew less of what was going on. Several scandals occurred; and whether from the form of government or from other causes, the municipality dropped behind and surrendered many of the functions of a city government. It would be unjust to attribute this decay wholly to the several city governments which administered the affairs of New Orleans between 1870 and 1882. The city was decaying in many other ways during that period. It had lost heavily in commerce and business, in consequence of the civil war, and overflow and pestilence. The general panic of 1877-8 cut down values and reduced the assessment and revenue far below what it had been for years. The lowest depth was reached in 1880, when assessments fell to $91,117,918. Moreover, during most of this period the city was at the mercy of the legislature, which delayed shuttlecock with it, changing its boundaries, rearranging its courts, and constantly tampering with its bonds and indebtedness. Finally a low condition of political morality was prevalent, which, while it was far worse in the State government, yet more or less reflected itself in the municipal government.

But aside from these outside influences, the municipality of New Orleans seemed to be drifting backwards. It lost control of the water-works in 1877, it being shown that the city was unable to administer them without loss; it surrendered control of its wharves and leased them out to a private company. The necessity for this action was recognized by all, as the wharves had got into a thoroughly bad condition under the city government, and it became obvious that the city could not properly administer them.

The treatment of the city debt was equally bad. The debt was made up of various kinds of bonds, differently guaranteed, bearing different rates of interest and wholly different in their character. The conflict between the consolidated bonds and premium bonds, which were supported by different administrations, led to a great deal of litigation and brought discredit on the city's bonds, some of which sold at less than twenty-three cents on the dollar. Finally the city's credit got so bad, and so many judgments were outstanding against it, that the creditors searched right and left to find public property subject to seizure, and even threatened to seize the parish prison and public markets. The tax rate of the city, which had been 1.5 per cent, in 1860, and 1 per cent, during the greater part of the Civil War, rose to 2.375 per cent, in 1869, 2.625 in 1870, 2.75 in 1871, and 3 per cent, in 1873. It was cut down afterwards, but this accomplished only by defaulting on many of the debts of the city. The result was a great deal of litigation and many judgements against New Orleans, which had to be included in the taxes of 1882, the last year of the administrative government. The tax rate of that year was the highest ever known in New Orleans, reaching a total of 3.175 per cent., of which 1.675 per cent, was a special judgement tax, levied by order from the United States Court to satisfy judgments that had been found against the city.

In 1870, Algiers and Jefferson City were annexed to New Orleans and became the fifth and sixth municipal districts respectively; in 1874, Carrollton was annexed as the seventh district.

Under the circumstances that existed it was not to be wondered at that popular sentiment should demand an entirely new charter for the city. This was granted by the Legislature in June, 1882.

— STANDARD HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
    MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT, By Norman Walker
    MUNICIPAL AND MILITARY HISTORY
    EDITED BY HENRY RIGHTOR
    THE LEWIS PUBLISHING COMPANY CHICAGO, 1900
    As Written


Storyville, New Orleans Red-Light District
1897-1917


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