|The latter charter is an ideal one, from the standpoint of the political and municipal economist. It is in line with the suggestions of the
Municipal Reform League and contains almost all the suggestions of that
body as to what should be contained in a model charter. Perhaps its
chief defect lay in the fact instead of going into operation all at one
time, the charter became operative partly in 1896 and partly in 1900.
The Legislature did not like to disturb the new city government so soon
after it has been installed, and hence it provided that there should be
no change in the officers until after the next election (1900). This
fact has led to considerable confusion and litigation to determine what
part of the charter of 1896 went into immediate operation and what part
was postponed until 1900.|
The charter of 1896 continued the councilmanic system, but with only one council, of smaller dimensions than that created by the charter of 1882 — seventeen instead of thirty members. The councilmen, as formerly, are elected by districts and wards; but — and this was a radical innovation — are paid for their services, whereas all the previous councilmen and aldermen had served without pay. The other elective officers are few in number — mayor, comptroller and treasurer — the latter two to prevent the mayor having too great control over the finances of the city. The other officials — commissioners of streets, surveyor, city attorney, etc., are appointed by the mayor, with the approval of the council. Under this charter the power of the mayor is very great, and he practically names the other officials, who constitute his cabinet. This is in full accord with the recommendations of the Municipal Reform League, which claims that it assures a harmonious administration, prevents a division of responsibility, and that it increases the chances of the people securing good government as they ought to be able to elect a fit and proper mayor; whereas they may, if they are compelled to choose a half dozen officers, make a mistake as to some of them.
The principles of civil service reform were recognized and endorsed in the new charter. A board was created to prepare and put in operation a system of civil-service rules for the new government; and it was provided that all appointments and promotions thereafter would be made in accordance with these rules.
The new charter was a model one. The only fault that could be found with it was that it was somewhat in advance of public sentiment in New Orleans, in too great contrast with the political conditions that had prevailed there; in fine, that the reforms it proposed were too radical and sudden and did not take local conditions sufficiently in account.
Under the charters of 1870 and 1882, the city had lost and surrendered most of its municipal functions, which had been sold or leased. Beginning in 1888, the disposition had been for the city to regain control of these functions, but to safeguard them against the danger of partisan politics by placing them under the control of boards and commissions, beyond the reach of politics and popular elections. This idea was undoubtedly the fruit of the success met with by the Board of Liquidation in dealing with the city debt. That debt had been so mismanaged by the city and so admirably managed by the Board of Liquidation that public sentiment strongly favored placing as many as possible of the functions of the city beyond the reach of politics. This plan has been steadily carried on since then until the government of New Orleans as it exists to-day is a most composite one, made up of a dozen different bodies, distinct and separate from the municipal government proper — the mayor, city officials and council — and in most cases absolutely independent of it. These independent boards and commissions are as follows:
Civil Service Commission. — Three members appointed by the mayor and serving each for twelve years. Commission created in 1896 by the city charter. The commission makes rules and regulations for the selection of minor officials, recommends persons for appointment and hears complaints of removals without cause.
Board of Liquidation of the City Debt. — Created in 1880 by an act of the Legislature. Composed of nine members; six citizens chosen; two by the Governor, two by the Lieutenant-Governor and two by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Mayor, Treasurer and Comptroller of the city ex-officio. This board has control of the city debt and of all revenues coming to the city from the sale franchises. Police Board. — Created in 1888 by the Legislature, with control over the police force. It consists of members chosen by the council for twelve years each, and the Mayor ex-officio. Board of Fire Commissioners. — Created in 1891, by the council. It consists of nine commissioners, chosen by the council, and the Mayor and Commissioner of Police and Public Buildings, ex-officio, and has control over and regulation of the fire department.
School Board. — It consists of twenty members, of whom eight are appointed by the Governor and twelve elected by the city council. Board of Health (two boards, one State and one city). — Chosen partly by appointment by the Governor and partly by election by the council. These boards exercise jurisdiction over quarantine and all sanitary matters. Orleans Levee Board. — Created by the Legislature in 1890. The board consists of seven members, and has full control over all levee matters — the construction, repair and maintenance of levees and the drainage of the city. It exercises the right to levy a tax not to exceed one mill for levee purposes, and to issue bonds to raise the necessary funds for levee construction.
Port Commission. — Created by the Legislature in 1896. This board has charge of the wharves, the collection of port dues, etc. Its powers will be greater after the expiration of the wharf lease (1901) and the return of the wharves to the possession of the city. The board consists of six members, appointed by the Governor.
The Drainage Commission. — Composed of nine members, including five chosen from the Orleans Levee Board. The commission has charge of all matters relating to drainage and the work of providing the new drainage system of the city.
Water and Sewerage Board. — Established by the Legislature in 1899 and going into active operation in 1900. It consists of seventeen members, appointed from the Orleans Levee Board, from the Board of Liquidation, the Drainage Commission, and seven commissioners, one from each district, appointed by the Mayor. The board has charge of the sewerage and drainage, of providing New Orleans with a sewerage system and with water-works. It levies taxes and is authorized to raise bonds thereon to carry on the work entrusted to it.
Thus it will be seen that the control of the police, fire department, schools, wharves, levees, sewerage, drainage, water supply, the public debt, sanitation and the appointment of minor officials have been taken from the city government proper and given to various boards and commissions, selected by the Governor, Legislature, Mayor or Council, all acting independently of the city and not answerable to it, and holding their several positions for long terms or even for life.
— 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
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