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literally construed was mandatory upon the legislature. Among the legislative purposes enumerated in the call for the special session of the new state legislature in the Spring of 1867, was this: “To provide for the organization of cities and incorporated villages;" but yet nothing was accomplished under this heading until the first general municipal incorporation act became law in 1869.
The constitution of 1875 leaves the power of incorporating municipalities with the state legislature, and substantially re-enacts the clause requiring it to do so by general law. Additional restrictions are placed upon the extent of local powers to be granted, namely that taxation other than special assessments must be uniform with respect to persons and property within the jurisdiction of the body imposing the same; that no municipality be permitted to secure any interest in the stock of any railway or private corporation; that no city be allowed to make donations to promote any internal improvement, unless authorized by a vote of the people, which vote must shows two-thirds of the voters in the affirmative, if the donation exceeds ten per cent. of the city's valuation, and must not exceed fifteen per cent. in any event.
EARLY MUNICIPAL CHARTERS.
The territorial and state legislatures have lost no opportunity to take the utmost advantage of these powers vested in them. The first territorial legislature at its first session in 1854-5, passed no less than fifteen special charters for whatever paper cities might have made application for incorporation. These charters were all very similar in character modelled upon the Nebraska City charter, which in turn was most probably copied in all essential particulars from charters of cities in Iowa, from which state most of the earliest territorial laws were derived. They defined the territory subject to municipal government, conferred corporate capacity upon its inhabitants, prescribed the qualifications of voters, vested the
local legislative powers in the mayor and common council comprising three to nine alderman, enumerated the powers of local adminstration and ordained a frame of of governmental offices. The elective officers were the mayor, aldermen, marshal, recorder, treasurer and assessor; each serving terms of one year only. These special charters were amended, modified, consolidated from year to year and new ones added to the list with appalling frequency: fifteen in 1858, nine in 1859. In 1862 the territorial legislature even went so far as to repeal the charter it had granted Fontenelle and to name a board of trustees to wind up its affairs. How many of the charters went unaccepted I have no means of knowing.
GENERAL MUNICIPAL CORPORATION ACTS.
There had been a general law passed as early as 1857, providing for the incorporation of towns under a system of government by trustees and this had been revised and re-enacted in 1864. But up to the attainment of statehood, municipal government in Nebraska had been practically a government under special charters. The first state constitution forbade the continuance of this practice and as a consequence we find municipal corporations divided into two classes and organized under general laws after the session of the legislature in 1869. The first class comprised cities having 3,000 qualified voters as shown by their registration lists, and whenever this should become apparent, the governor was to proclaim the fact, whereupon the city would become subject to the statute relating to cities of the first class. Cities of the second class were to be recruited from incorporated towns that should find them selves possessed of 500 legal voters. The determination, then, of the character of the municipal government was made to rest not upon a particular designation of territory as under the special charters but upon the number of qualified voters. This was soon changed, however, by the laws enacted two years later (1871) which made all
cities having over 15,000 inhabitants cities of the first class, and all having over 1,500 and less than 15,000 cities of the second class. The number of inhabitants was to be certified to the governor by the mayor and council of the city or town, and upon his proclamation the city was to become subject to the act governing the class to which it belonged. The lower limit for cities of the second class was reduced to 500 inhabitants in 1873, and raised again in 1879 to 1,500. In 1881, only cities having over 25,000 inhabitants were to be termed cities of the first class. It is evident that these changes were made solely for the purpose of either including or shutting out particular cities and to that extent were evasions of the constitution against special legislation. The same intent is seen in the act of 1883, creating an extra subdivision known as "cities of the second class having more than 10,000 inhabitants," amended in 1885 to apply to "cities of the second class having more than 5,000 inhabitants.” In the latter year the limits for cities of the second class were also made from 1,000 to 25,000 inhabitants. This development was carried a step further two years later by the creation of another extra class designated, “cities of metropolitan class,” including cities having over 60,000 inhabitants; the other classifications remaining as cities of the first class (25,000 to 60,000); cities of the second class having over 5,000 inhabitants (5,000 to 25,000); cities of the second class (1,000 to 25,000). This classification was again changed in 1889 as follows: cities of the metropolitan class, (over 80,000); cities of the first class (25,000 to 80,000); cities of the first class having less than 25,000 inhabitants (8,000 to 25,000); cities of the second class (over 1,000).
The corporate capacity of Nebraska municipalities has always been vested jointly in the mayor and city council.
The offices of mayor and members of the council moreover have always been elective.
The mayor is denominated the chief executive officer of the city and conservator of the peace. Under the special charters his term of office was one year. The act of 1869 governing cities of the first class made it two years, but it was shortened to one year in 1871, and remained so in cities of the highest class until 1881, when it again became two years. The mayor at first himself presided over the deliberations of the council and was allowed the casting vote in case of a tie. The general act of 1879 took this power away in favor of a president elected by the council and gave him a limited veto power subject to be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the legal number of councilmen, while that of 1881 extended this veto power to separate items of the appropriation bills.
In addition to this, the mayor was originally a justice of the peace, by virtue of his office, with both civil and criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed within the boundaries of the municipality. His court resembled the old mayor's court of colonial times from which appeal lay to the higher tribunal. The civil jurisdiction was later cut off and in 1869 the court was turned over to an elective police judge, but the mayor was still to act pending his absence or disability. Under the act of 1871, he retained his power to remit fines and grant reprieves and pardons for violations of city ordinances, and the mayor may still remit police court fines in cities of the metropolitan class, subject to regulations to be provided by ordinance of the city council.
THE CITY COUNCIL.
The city council has varied greatly in number and composition. The first charter of Nebraska City provided for three aldermen and that of Omaha City for nine, all elected annually. They were called councilmen in the act of 1869 and were to be elected two from each ward, one from each ward retiring annually. By the act of 1881, there were still to be twice as many councilmen as wards, but half of them were to be elected at large, the others, one from each ward, the two classes retiring in alternate years. This organization still persists. The council has always had power over its own internal affairs and to provide for deciding contests in the election of its own members. The latter laws also require property qualifications.
THE CITY CLERK.
The early charters provided for an elective recorder to keep the records of the municipal corporation with term corresponding to that of mayor. By an amendment to the Omaha City charter in 1858, he was designated city clerk and made appointive by the council. The act of 1871, made the office again elective; it was made appointive by the council by an amendment in 1877; made elective in 1883; appointive in 1885; elective again in 1891. The city clerkship, it is thus seen, has been made the buffet of legislative deference to charter committees.
The office of comptroller has been the outgrowth of the offices of city clerk and city treasurer, first appearing as an elective office under the name of auditor in 1885, and called comptroller since 1887. The term of this office, as well as the other elective city offices, has constantly corresponded with that of the mayor. The incumbent's main duty comprises the auditing of public accounts.
THE CITY TREASURER.
The treasurer has from the first been an elective officer upon whom has been enjoined the safe keeping of the public moneys.
THE MARSHAL. Excluding the assessor, in reality a precinct officer, the marshal completes the list of original elective charter officers. Under the first special charters he was not only