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City Manager Plan of Government for Dayton 1913



City-Manager Plan
of Government
for Dayton


Director, Bureau of Municipal Research
Reprinted by permission from the
October 1913


 This article is reprinted in response to a number of requests for a digest of the Dayton Charter.

The City-Manager Plan of Government for Dayton.

        ON AUGUST 12 the voters of Dayton, Ohio, approved a charter giving to that city a "city-manager" plan of government—making it the first American municipality of considerable size to secure this form of government. To this feature of a "controlled executive" has been added a number of progressive administrative ideas.
            The power is vested in a non-partisan commission of five, elected at large, in the place of the ward council. It was urged by a number of authorities on municipal matters that the commission would be more representative were its number nine or seven, rather than five, but the latter number was agreed upon in order to secure a shorter ballot. None of the candidates are for designated offices,, so the preferential form of voting was discarded for the ordinary primaries with a later election—it being thought impractical to ask voters to designate five first, five second and five other choices. Consideration was given the Hare proportional representation scheme, but it was discarded for the time being, in the belief that its use would foster political alignment in municipal elections. Elections are to be held every two years, the three candidates receiving the greatest vote at the first election being chosen for a four-year term, the others for two years. The candidate receiving the highest vote at the election at which the greatest number of commissioners are elected shall be mayor, to perform the few duties incumbent upon him by general state law, and "for ceremonial purposes." All members of the commission, as well as the city manager, are subject to the recall upon a 25 per cent petition of the registered electors.
            In distinction from the straight commission plan the duties of the commission are purely legislative—passing the annual appropriation ordinance, police and public improvement regulations, with the usual legislative power to investigate the operation of any department. The city manager, chosen to serve at the pleasure of the commission (with the recall provision), is the administrative head of the government, appoints and fixes salaries of his immediate subordinates including the principal departmental and sub-departmental heads and their deputies, and is personally responsible for the entire administration of the city. There is a striking analogy between the functions and accountability of this officer and his superiors, as compared with the similar position of the superintendent of public instruction and the school board in many localities.
To comply strictly with managerial theories the executive should be empowered to employ and dismiss such of his employees as he desires, and to stipulate such compensation as he deems necessary. In this instance civil service clauses are incorporated, which provide examinations to determine persons eligible for appointment in all but a small unclassified service; insure the standardization of wages and equal pay for equal service in all branches of the government; create a six months probationary period before appointment; and which requires the certification of all pay-rolls by the chief examiner—all features of a modern merit law. However, it is further provided that the manager, in consultation with the chief examiner, shall make the designations for appointment from the entire eligible list, rather than from the three highest. Such a rule conforms with private business practice, but in public affairs will probably secure employment for the politically desirable, and serve to vitiate the entire merit system. Nor did the charter commission carry their theory of independence in the selection of city employees to its logical conclusion—freedom to hire and dismiss at pleasure: persons employed cannot be permanently relieved from duty except by substantiation of charges before the civil service board. It is doubtful if such a law meets the requirements of the state constitution, which provides that appointments shall be made according to fitness and merit.
            As would be anticipated, the powers and duties of the manager are a summation of all powers usually granted to the heads of departments, boards, or units of government over whom he will have supervision and control. Such duties will comprehend:

a. Supervision of departmental administration.
b. The execution of laws and ordinances.
c. Recommendation of legislative measures.
d. Appointment of officers and employes, subject to the provisions of the civil service sections.
e. Preparation of reports.
f. Prepartion of the budget.

After lengthy debate relative to the merits of leaving the creation of departments and the distribution of their powers to the legislative body of the city, such plan was adversely decided upon. The departmental organization of the city consequently has been specified in the charter, permitting fundamental duties to be assigned to the more important departmental heads. A reservation is made, however, by which the commission may create additional departments, and may discontinue or distribute their functions. The charter organization of the city, excepting schools and the courts controlled by general state law, is practically as follows:

1. The Commission (subject to initiative, referendum, recall and protest).
            A. Civil service board.
            B. City manager.
                        1. Department of law.
                        2. Department of public service, comprising the construction and maintenance of streets,     sidewalks and sewers; collection and disposal of waste; and management of public utilities.
                        3. Department of safety, comprising the divisions of fire and police; building inspection; and the enforcement of ordinances relating to weights and measures.
                        4. Department of finance, comprising the divisions of accounting, the treasury, and the purchasing of supplies.
                        5. Department of public welfare, comprising the divisions of health, parks and playgrounds, charities and correction.
            A provision borrowed from Germany, but unique in American practice, recommends the appointment of a city-plan board by the commission, and provides for such other citizen-boards to act in an advisory capacity with departmental heads, as the city manager may deem expedient. No powers are granted these bodies, except as may hereafter be created by ordinance.
            More interesting features of the proposed Dayton charter are to be found in the administrative clauses which have been incorporated—features which have been notably absent in the fundamental law of most municipalities. The charter commissioners were thoroughly imbued with the idea that inefficient government is due to badness of methods rather than badness of men; and as a proposed remedy have included adequate provisions governing budgetary and accounting procedure, a purchasing department, granting of franchises, public improvements and other subjects differentiated from the organic law of the city. The appropriation estimates are to be compiled by the city manager from detailed information obtained from the several departments on uniform blanks. The entire classification of expense must be as nearly uniform as possible for the main functional divisions of all departments, and there must be presented in parallel columns the following information:

            a. A detailed estimate of departmental needs.
            b. Expenditures for corresponding items covering the past two years.
            c. Expenditures of the present year including transfers.
            d. Supplies on hand.
            e. Increases and decreases in requests.
            f. Other information required.
            g. Recommendations of the city manager.
            Provision is made for the publication and public hearings on the budget estimate before it can be enacted into law, and an additional proviso that the appropriation shall never exceed the estimated income.
            In connection with these budgetary sections there is an original clause which will obviate a common difficulty met in municipal finance—the presence of more than ample money to the credit of certain funds, while legitimate charges and pay-rolls against other appropriations go unliquidated because of temporary financial stringency. It is provided in the Dayton charter that

all moneys actually in the treasury to the credit of the fund from which they are to be drawn, and moneys .... anticipated to come into the treasury .... shall be considered in the treasury to the credit of the appropriate fund.

            The accounting provisions were arrived at after a lengthy consideration of best municipal accounting practices including New York and Cincinnati procedures, as well as the code in process of prepartion for New Jersey. Difficulty was met, not in determining what systems should be provided, but in reducing the outline of the procedure to fundamentals, and within the limits of a brief charter. Two sections found in the proposed Cleveland charter were finally incorporated, and which require that

accounting procedures shall be devised and maintained for the city adequate to record in detail all transactions affecting the acquisition, custodianship and disposition of values.

A corollary clause, but the one upon which the above depends for its interpretation, reads in part as follows:

the commission shall cause a continuous audit to be made . . . such statements shall include a general balance sheet, exhibiting the assets and liabilities of the city supported by departmental schedules, and schedules for each utility publicly owned or operated; summaries of income and expenditure supported by detailed schedules; and also comparison .... with the last previous year.

            A strict accounting interpretation of the terms "income and expenditure" will place the city accounting upon a liability basis rather than the usual cash receipts and disbursements basis, upon which most cities operate. Immediately following the inauguration of the new commission it is expected that ordinances, now in preparation, detailing the departmental procedure necessary under the foregoing clauses will be passed. Such ordinances will specify the ledgers and records to be installed, the method of central control, character of operation reports, unit cost records—in brief will be the basis of an accounting manual for the municipality.
            Dovetailed to these provisions for financial accounting are regulations for proper pay-roll control. It is provided that the "head of each department .... shall require proper time reports for all services rendered .... to serve as a basis for the preparation of pay-roll vouchers," and by which each departmental head must submit "current financial and operating statements exhibiting the transactions (of his department) and the cost thereof." In this manner it is believed that adequate fundamental provision has been made for budget making, general finance accounts, cost accounts and operative records.
            Revenue systems and forms of taxation are prescribed by general state law, not subject to charter modification. However, complete detail has been provided for the financing of public improvements, too lengthy to be discussed in a brief article.
            Public utility franchises may be granted, subject to referendum, but no franchises shall be exclusive, and each shall state the terms under which the property may be assumed by the city; or the municipality reserves the right to condemn public utility property.
            So brief was the time allowed for the preparation of the Dayton charter, that in many respects the document has a "scissors and paste" character; however, there are numerous features which were given painstaking thought and care,—notably the plan of organization and the financial sections. No formal survey of the local government was made, yet the commissioners were familiar with the shortcomings of most of the city departments—the absolute lack of modern accounting system, the absence of efficiency, cost and operating records, the need of budgetary procedure, the weakness of the health service, the partisan and ineffective character of the merit system—sufficiently familiar with these problems to mould a procedure and adopt a program commensurate with the needs of the community. The experience of Dayton will be a distinct contribution to the science of politics.

What will the New Charter in your Town do to Insure:

A continuous audit of city accounts, with a general balance sheet exhibiting assets and liabilities of the city

The requirement of summaries of city income and expenditure rather than of receipts and expense

Accounting procedure adequate to record in detail all transactions affecting the acquisition, custodianship and disposition of values

A scientific budget classified uniformly for the main functional divisions of all departments

Standardization and centralized purchasing of all supplies

Time sheets and certification of all pay-rolls

Current financial and operating statements exhibiting each transaction and the cost

Adequate franchise control

Citizen-boards to consult and advise with the various departments

Standardization of service and compensation, insuring equal pay for equal work in every branch of the city government