Baltimore Evening Sun (26 May 1911): 6.


From police trials and the heroic proclamations of the acquitted, good Lord. deliver us!

The salary list of the First Branch or the City Council is as follows:

24 Councilmen, at $1,000 a year. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$24,000
1 Chief clerk. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,600
1 Reading clerk. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,200
1 Committee clerk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,200
1 Page . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .800
1 Sergeant-at-Arms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .800
2 Doorkeepers, at $700 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,400
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$31,000

In addition, the branch has expenses. It mast buy stationery, reference books, penknives, inkstands and postage stamps. It must, on occasion, hire stenographers. The figures for the present year are not at hand, but those for 1909—a fair average year—show that the expenses of the two branches came to $14,335. Let us assume that the share of the First and larger branch was $8,000. Add the $1,000 or so which it costs to heat, light and sweep the Council chamber, and it is found that the branch costs the taxpayers, in all, about $40,000 a year.

What do the taxpayers get for their money? Not much. Theoretically, the First Branch is the guardian of the people’s money, the watchman of the City Hall. Actually, it is nothing of the sort. We have had, during the last 12 years, one or more abnormal Councils—Councils in which intelligent and earnest men were in the majority. But in the normal Council they are not in the majority. The normal Council is composed, in the main, of ward leaders and the retainers of ward leaders. The first aim of its members seems to be to get jobs for their followers. The second aim seems to be to get all the appropriations they can for their wards.

The consequence of this spirit is that legislation upon broad lines, looking to the good of the city as a whole, is well-nigh impossible of attainment. The average Councilman, for instance, has no sympathy with general schemes of street paving. What he wants is street paving in his ward. Hence the grotesque patchwork that has been done in Baltimore.

Again, the average Councilman thinks it a childish absurdity that in appointing men to office their fitness for the work before them should weigh more than all else. Far above their fitness he places their political consequence. If they are important men in their wards or precincts, if they have gone gunning for votes, if they spend their leisure in ward clubs, saloons and cigar stores, gabbling idiotic parish politics, then he believes that they deserve jobs.

But there must be some place, you say, for discussing the affairs of the city. Every section must have its delegate, its mouthpiece, and the best average judgment of these delegates must be accepted as the best judgment of the people. Well, If that is so, then the people must be fools, for the average Councilmanic debate is marked, beyond everything else, by its depressing stupidity. You must go far if you would hear more ridiculous discussions. You must go far if you would see more silly posturing.

A good while back I reported the proceedings of a Council, from its first meeting to its last. As Councils go, if was a very good one. In the Second Branch there were five men of alert intelligence and honest enthusiasm for good government, and but three professional politicians and numbskulls. Even in the First Branch there was a working majority of first-rate men. But the second and third-rate men—the pothouse politicians and ignoramuses–insisted upon having their say, and the result was that some of the debates would have done discredit to a crowd of schoolboys. One of the members came to the meetings intoxicated at least two times out of five. His occasional remarks, naturally enough, were highly illuminating and of great value to Baltimore.

All this costs the city $40,000 a year, with about $20,000 for the Second Branch–say $60,000 in all, or 2 cents on the tax rate. The actual work that the Council does might be done very much better by three commissioners at $5,000 a year apiece—still better by one commissioner at $10,000. More than 100 American cities, large and small, despairing of ever keeping professional politicians and blockheads out of their Councils, have abolished the latter altogether, The result, in every case, has been a great saving of money and an end to scandal. It is easy to watch three Commissioners—but who will undertake to watch 30 or 40 Councilmen?

Examine the salary list of the present First Branch. Note the two doorkeepers at $700 apiece. The charter provides that the Council shall hold no more than 120 meetings a year. The average meeting lasts from 5 P. M. until 6.30. For standing at the door for an hour and a half, each door keeper thus gets $5.08. A dollar would be ample compensation. And consider the page at $800. An office boy at $5 a week would probably do the work just as well. The reading clerk gets $10 every time he attends. The Councilmen themselves get but $8.33 apiece.

The Voice of the People, as overheard in public places:

Well, well, well! What has become of that mass meeting of school children? And that advertising campaign? And those Baltimore expositions in Jacksonville, Atlanta and Savannah?

Meanwhile, why not look into the typhoid situation? Baltimore has 3,000 cases a year and about 250 deaths. The city of London, with 10 times Baltimore’s population, has 25 deaths.

Judge Martin’s statement that “most people will cheat the Government if opportunity offers” suggests the following classification of American citizens:

  1. Those who frankly believe in graft.
  2. Those who denounce grafting when the other follow is caught doing it.
  3. Those who abhor it so much that they will not even do it themselves.

To the first class belong 10 per cent. of our people; to the second class 89 per cent., and to the third class 1 per cent.

In the two morning papers yesterday the boom now in progress received, in all, but 27 lines of space. Is this death?

H. L. Mencken