Friday, July 08, 2011

"If the mayor and complete council were wiped out..."

I was in the UAA/APU Consortium Library Archives the other day looking something up and got to reading the Anchorage Charter Commission minutes of March 2, 1959. They had a consultant from Lansing, Michigan - George R. Sidwell - and over several evenings of four hour meetings they discussed everything from collecting taxes to magistrates to the powers of the city council.

On page 13 of the March 2 meeting, they had a discussion on succession in case something happened to the mayor.

Shannon:  Mr. Sidwell, I would like to bring up a new concept that has been brought out by the office of the Defense Mobilization, which now has a civil defense responsibility, and because of the type of warfare we are now looking forward to, they are very anxious to get a liberal or broad succession of government.

Sidwell:  We have it very much in our state.  .  .  This is the only answer I have figured out.  If something happens to the mayor, members of the council, according to seniority would take over.  Now, if mayor and complete council were wiped out, you would have another situation like Galveston.

You can read more of the context below.   Click it to make it clearer.

From Frank Reed Sr. Collection at UAA/APU Consortium Library Archives

The 1950s was the height of the Cold War and the fear of nuclear attack by both the Soviet Union and the United States.  People who could afford it built bomb shelters in their back yards.

But reading this now, after 9/11 and all the security based limits on people's freedom, one can't help but think that in every age, there is a part of the population, that exploits security threats for their own purposes.  I don't even doubt that some of the people believe the threat is as great is they profess.  But the rest of us have to stand up for reasonable assessment of risks and reactions.  Making 95 year old wheel chair bound passengers take off their incontinence pads before they can get through airport security is a reminder of how extreme some security proponents become.

In this case, no one seemed too concerned, but the mention reminds us that this is nothing new.  And I don't recall any city councils getting wiped out by nuclear attack. 

What happened in Galveston?  I'm not sure.  There was a hurricane in 1900 that killed between 6,000 and 12,000, but that was 60 years earlier.  "The deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history" occurred in the nearby port at Texas City in 1947 and killed close to 600 people, but I find no mention in either case of the death of a mayor. 

By the way, the Archives are on the third floor of the Consortium library.  The staff was extremely helpful.  They have lots of rules, such as:
  • On site use only
  • No pens allowed (only pencils) and for some items, gloves
  • Not food or drink
  • Photography only with permission 
  • Be careful of copyright, literary, and cultural rights 
  • [The stuff I was looking at was all public documents, so no problem]
  • Be sure to cite the archives when you publish something


    1. What happened in Galveston?

      I can answer that one: The commission form of city government, also known as the Galveston Plan, was devised in Galveston in 1901 and became one of the three basic forms of municipal government in the United States.[...]the commission plan blends legislative and executive functions in the same body.

      The invention of the commission plan was a direct result of the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

      Portland, Oregon has a hybrid version of the commission plan. I remember learning about Galveston's experience 20-some years ago while serving on a Civic Futures committee.

    2. Since my previous post mentioned "three basic forms of municipal government," I guess I should fill in the blank about the other two:

      The council–manager government form is one of two predominant forms of municipal government in the United States; the other common form of local government is the mayor-council government form, which characteristically occurs in large cities.

      The Galveston plan is a rare bird these days.

    3. Thanks, Ron, that helps explain the Galveston reference.


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