City Manager Plan from the Cleveland Encyclopedia of History

City Manager Plan from the Cleveland Encyclopedia of History

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The CITY MANAGER PLAN and PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION ELECTIONS for city council members were key features of the City Charter approved by Cleveland voters in 1921. The two-pronged plan was an effort to provide more efficient and more responsive government by utilizing the managerial skills of a trained executive to administer the city, while a more representative council would make policy for the manager to carry out. The first of five (1923-31) proportional representation elections was held in 1923, and the first of two city managers took office in January 1924. At the time Cleveland was the largest and most diverse city in the U.S. to adopt such a system.

The manager, selected by the council, was responsible for law enforcement and the conduct of all city business. He had the power to appoint and remove all administrators except those covered by Civil Service. Four large districts replaced the 33 small wards as electoral units, each district electing 5, 6, or 7 councilmembers at-large, depending on population, for a total of 25 members who served 2-year terms. The Single Transferable Vote ballot (PR/STV) was nonpartisan and gave voters the opportunity to rank their candidate choices and to have their ballots transferred during the count to maximize their effectiveness.

In Jan. 1924, the council elected CLAYTON C. TOWNES† as mayor, a largely ceremonial position, and appointed WILLIAM R. HOPKINS† as city manager. In Jan. 1926, JOHN D. MARSHALL† succeeded Townes as mayor and was reelected by the council in 1928 and 1930. Although the plan was designed to minimize patronage practices, Hopkins was actually selected by Republican Party leader MAURICE MASCHKE† and Democratic Party leader W. BURR GONGWER†, who secured Hopkins’ agreement to split city patronage, with 60% of city jobs going to the dominant Republicans and 40% to cooperative Democrats. Hopkins exercised leadership in policy matters as well as administration, often preempting both the mayor and city council in the governing process. Five Charter repeal efforts were initiated. The first, in 1925, was aimed only at the PR electoral system but failed to pass. HARRY L. DAVIS†, who hoped to take over Republican party leadership and return as mayor, led three subsequent unsuccessful efforts to repeal both PR elections and the city manager plan (1927, 1928, and 1929). In 1930 a split between Maschke and Hopkins caused the Republican majority on council to fire Hopkins and appoint DANIEL MORGAN† in his place. Although Morgan had a better relationship with the council, he alienated Democrats by repudiating the patronage ratio agreement and hiring only Republicans at City Hall. In 1931 a commission led by Democrat Saul Danaceau placed charter repeal on the ballot. Generally, Republicans and reformers now opposed repeal, while Democrats, approaching majority status in the traditionally Republican-dominated city, supported a return to a popularly elected mayor and ward-based plurality elections for council. In Nov. 1931, a majority of voters approved the change.

While substantial public improvements were achieved during the City Manager/PR years, at the same time that taxes were reduced, voters did not attribute this progress to the form of city government. Instead, the electorate reacted to the perception that the city manager had overstepped his bounds, that corruption on the council had not been eliminated, and that the PR/STV was too complex. Finally, the rigors of the Depression created dissatisfaction with government in general.

Bromage, Arthur. Manager Plan Abandonments (1959).

Campbell, Thomas F. Daniel E. Morgan, 1877-1949 (1966).

Hallett, George. Proportional Representation (1940).

City Manager Plan A Flop – Plain Dealer July 26, 1998

Article about Cleveland City Manager Plan. Plain Dealer July 26, 1998


Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH) – Sunday, July 26, 1998

Author: Fred McGunagle

It had the support of “all the best people” – the Board of Real Estate Dealers, the Chamber of Commerce, the Civic League (forerunner of the Citizens League). But as the city manager plan entered its second year, Clevelanders were starting to have second thoughts.


As proposed, the plan would take politics out of city government. Instead of an elected mayor answerable to dozens of diverse groups, there would be a professional manager answerable to a policy-making board, much like a corporation.

The board would be a revised City Council of 25, smaller than the old Council but elected from only four districts. It would end the evils of politics – just as Prohibition was to end the evil of the saloon.


And just like Prohibition, the city manager plan in Cleveland turned out to be a disaster.


A cynical patronage deal between Republican and Democratic bosses ensured that the politicians would be more firmly in control than ever. The city manager was accused of acting like a czar. Councilmen went to prison for corruption and a former councilman expected to turn state’s evidence was murdered just before his court appearance.


The plan was passed by voters in November 1921, to take effect with the elections of 1923. “They were immensely proud of themselves for having solved their municipal ills by taking this new cure in one big dose,” Richard L. Maher wrote in “Our Fair City,” a 1947 book. “They didn’t bother to set up a watchdog. They left the plan to shift for itself.”


Maurice Maschke and Burr Gongwer knew how to shift for themselves. Maschke had been Republican boss since 1914. Gongwer, who had been The Plain Dealer’s politics reporter during the Tom L. Johnson administration, had succeeded Newton D. Baker as head of the declining Democratic organization. The two agreed that Maschke would get 60 percent of city jobs and Gongwer the other 40 percent. On Maschke’s orders, City Council elected William R. Hopkins city manager.


The choice was widely applauded. Hopkins, often described as “a square-jawed Welshman,” had served a term as a Republican councilman in 1897-99 and thereafter was a successful industrial developer and businessman. His vision of the future moved citizens; although he failed to make Cleveland a stopping point on a worldwide dirigible route, he did open Cleveland Municipal Airport (which, in 1951, was renamed Cleveland Hopkins Airport).


Harry L. Davis, the former mayor and governor, led a fight in 1927 to knock out the manager plan. Both parties, newspapers and civic groups rallied to its defense. “The manager plan was saved; or, rather, Hopkins was saved, for he immediately assumed greater powers than before,” Maher wrote. “Clevelanders learned they had a manager who was not interested in background roles. He was determined to be the star – and he was.”


That was fine with Maschke, as long as Hopkins hired the people Maschke wanted hired and took care of Maschke’s friends.


M.J. and O.P. Van Sweringen were very much Maschke’s friends. In the process of building their railroad and transit empire, along with the Terminal Group of buildings, “the Vans” wanted a railroad bridge in a place that interfered with plans for straightening the Cuyahoga River.


Hopkins objected, but Maschke straightened out the city manager – or so he thought. While Maschke was out of town, Hopkins tried to force the issue. Maschke hurried back and, Maher reported, “summoned the members of the Council, cracked the whip for the Van Sweringens, and Hopkins was defeated.”


When another vote to scrap the manager plan was put on the ballot in 1928, Maschke did little. It was Hopkins and the Democrats who led the battle that saved it, though by a narrower margin than before. Hopkins began handing out jobs to Democrats and independents as he pleased.


The margin was even narrower in 1929, but while the Democrats campaigned to save the manager plan, Maschke campaigned to elect a Republican Council, which didn’t need help from Democrats and independents.


He succeeded, and in January 1930, Council fired Hopkins by a vote of 14-11.

In his place, Council – really, Maschke – picked Daniel E. Morgan, a respected state senator but also a loyal Republican.


Adding to the public’s disillusionment with the system was a series of land scandals. Thomas Fleming, who had become Cleveland’s first black councilman in 1907 and ran the black wards for Maschke, was sent to the penitentiary for graft. So was Councilman Liston Schooley, chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, along with his son.


Councilman William Potter and City Clerk Fred Thomas were indicted but escaped conviction after three trials. Potter was then charged with perjury and was rumored to have made a deal with Prosecutor Ray T. Miller to implicate other councilmen. On Feb. 8, 1931, the day before his trial was to start, he was found in a Glenville apartment with a bullet through his head.


That November, voters threw out the city manager plan. Law Director Harold Burton took office as acting mayor until a special election could be held.


In his chapter on political reform in “The Birth of Modern Cleveland, 1865-1930,” Thomas Campbell offers a final word on the manager plan. Unlike the earlier reforms of the Tom L. Johnson era, he wrote, it was “not rooted in the ideology that was committed to the American dream of greater equality for all citizens.


“Indeed, these structural reforms, with their emphasis on efficiency and bureaucracy and the anti-foreign and anti-union attitudes of the business leadership of these years, left an underlying hostility among the white ethnics that has endured for many years.”

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