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86 years ago: Time to consider a city administrator

7:29 PM, Jun. 28, 2013  |  Comments
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Each Monday, we turn to a day in the newspaper's history for a look at what the Editorial Board found worthy of comment. We will preserve the punctuation and capitalization of the original editorial column. Here is what we wrote on July 1, 1927:

City Manager Plan

The adoption by the people of Indianapolis of the city manager plan of government, despite the strenuous opposition of a group of politicians, serves to emphasize anew the interest shown in giving cities a businesslike form of government. The Record-Herald again calls the attention of Wausau people to the possible advantage of adopting a commission plan with a city manager, as the best possible way of handling Wausau's municipal affairs. This paper makes this suggestion without an effort at criticising, in any way, the official behavior of our present mayor and common council. Only - it is sometimes better to employ men in city government who have made special study of such matters, and who receive a sufficient salary to enable them to devote all their attention to the work. This is possible under the city management plan.

Janesville, which has the system; Kenosha, which also has the commission-city manager plan, and other Wisconsin municipalities which have tried it, are outspoken in their praise of the arrangement. Other cities now operating under the mayor and common council plan, are giving the city manager idea serious consideration. The Appleton Post-Crescent, in commenting upon the Indianapolis election, holds that governmental affairs, like other business matters, should be conducted in a more businesslike way, and adds that American cities "cannot afford to handle so extensive a business as municipal government in the slipshod, extravagant, wasteful ways it is now man-handled by politicians, merely for the sake of giving men of popularity and their hangers-on employment, and of satisfying their ambitions. Too much is involved to the taxpayers and to the interests of the municipality. We pay a heavy price for petty and foolish politics, but some day we will come to our senses and stop it. Some day we shall demand that public business be conducted like private business."

The Oshkosh Northwestern also looks with favor upon the Indianapolis idea, explaining the city manager plan as it is in operation in four Wisconsin cities:

"Under the city manager form, the voters of the municipality select, on a short ballot, at large or by districts, a legislative body known as council or commission. This usually consists of from three to nine members, although some of the larger cities choose even more councilmen, if it is considered necessary.

"The council passes all ordinances, levies taxes, approves the budget, makes appropriations necessary to carry out the budget and determines the city's general policies. The members of the council may be recalled by the people for acts or legislation inconsistent with the wishes of the people.

"The council selects the city manager, a trained executive who is experienced in handling city affairs. He is held responsible by the council for the execution of the policies laid down for him, but details of administration are left to his discretion. He employs and discharges all heads of city departments, approves appointment of subordinate employees and is responsible to the council for their acts. He may be removed by the council at any time.

"As in any form of government, the success of the manager form depends upon the class of men chosen to serve. That statement applies both to the personnel of the council and the executive ability of the manager.

"American cities that have the manager form numbered 364 on May 20 of this year. At that time Wisconsin had four - Kenosha, Janesville, Rhinelander and Two Rivers. The manager plan was first tried eighteen years ago at Staunton, Va.

"Oshkosh had a large number of outspoken advocates of the manager plan, but needs a big working force and aggressive leadership to bring the question to a focus. Too many are afraid to take a stand for fear it might hurt their business interests, if the movement should fail of success."

It may be wise for Wausau people to mull this idea over, and possibly they may conclude it is worth trying.

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