Changes in American City Government

June 2, 1930

Report Outline
The Commission Plan of City Government
The Council-Manager Plan
Mechanics of the Council-Manager Plan
Selecting the Council and City Manager
Results Achieved Under Council-Manager Plan
Special Focus

In 1888 Lord Bryce wrote that “the government of cities is the one conspicuous failure of the United States.” Thirty-three years later he spoke of the council-manager form of local government, which had evolved in the meantime, as “the latest word in municipal reform,” Fundamental changes which had been going on in the organization of American city government since 1900 required the author of The American Commonwealth to revise his earlier indictment. Precipitated by the disastrous Galveston flood, the commission plan of city government had risen and flourished during the first decade of the new century. After 1910 the city-manager plan made rapid pains at the expense of other forms. The rise and decline of the commission and the development of the manager plan in 410 cities may be better understood if the municipal executive is viewed in historical perspective.

Evolution of the Municipal Executive

In its beginnings in America the office of mayor was modeled on its English prototype. The mayor of the colonial borough was usually appointed by the governor, as in New York, or chosen by the aldermen and councilmen from among the aldermen, as in Philadelphia. In the latter city, for example, the colonial mayor held office for one year, received no salary at first, and was usually reappointed, subject to removal by the aldermen and councilmen for misconduct. Refusal to serve made him liable to a fine which some appointees preferred to pay.

The mayor presided over the common council, but had no veto power, nor, in Philadelphia, a vote. He could summon council meetings and propose business, but had few administrative functions. He sometimes presided in the borough court and sat as a magistrate with jurisdiction over minor offenses. Legislative, executive, and judicial powers were thus combined in the colonial mayor and councils.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
State and Local Governments
Feb. 26, 2021  State Finances
Sep. 11, 2009  State Budget Crisis
Oct. 03, 2003  State Budget Crises
Dec. 24, 1971  State Legislatures in Transition
Sep. 25, 1968  State Constitutional Reform
Oct. 11, 1967  Local Government Modernization
Aug. 15, 1956  Metropolitan Government
May 25, 1939  Reorganization of City Government
Feb. 24, 1939  Reorganization of County Government
May 23, 1938  Reorganization of State Governments
Oct. 29, 1937  State Control of Local Government
Sep. 01, 1936  Consolidation of Local Governments
Jan. 03, 1933  Reorganization of Local Government
Jun. 02, 1930  Changes in American City Government
Oct. 30, 1924  Political Statistics of the States
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations