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Its Government

BEAUMONT is governed under the council commission-manager form, which is considered the most advanced form of municipal government that has been devised. This form of government was adopted in 1920, along with the present charter, and after a sharply drawn campaign.

Elective municipal government in the United States is but little better than a century old, and the beginning was not altogether elective. In 1822 the state of New York adopted a constitution which provided that the elective legislature of the city of New York, instead of the governor of the state, should have the appointment of the mayor. This was the first effective step toward home rule.

It remained for the west to take a bold step in putting municipal affairs wholely within the hands of the electorate. In the same year Detroit and St. Louis reached something akin to the aldermanic form of government by providing that the mayor should be elected by the people. This was regarded as revolutionary, but finally spread over the entire United States.

The next important step in municipal government was born in the southwest, out of necessity. In 1900 the city of Galveston was all but destroyed by a tropical storm accompanied by a tidal wave. When the people viewed the ruins and the gulf that might again spread devastation, they realized that an immense amount of money must be raised or abandon the beautiful island city. There was no hope of creating sufficient confidence under the old aldermanic political form of government to induce capitalists to advance such a huge amount of money or induce the state to come to the rescue.

In this crisis the business men got together and devised a commission form of government, a nonpartisan affair, which would have a well-known and successful business man at the head of each department. Galveston arose from the ruins greater than ever before, and at great expense erected a seawall which has proven to be a barrier against tidal waves.

This advanced step in handling municipal affairs attracted the attention of the entire nation, with the result that other cities began to adopt the commission form of government.

This step in municipal government was left undisturbed until 1908, when the comparatively small city of Staunton, Virginia, advertised for a competent person to manage its city affairs. Fortunately for the movement, a very capable man was secured, and within a few years the commission-manager form of government overshadowed the straight commission form.

The next move in that direction was made by the city of Sherman, Texas, which adopted a council-commission-manager form of government in 1915. The city of Beaumont went still farther by adopting a like form of government, when it gave into the city council the veto power, the council having the same power in that respect as a mayor under the old aldermanic form of government.

Under the charter adopted in 1919, and becoming effective in April, 1920, the people elect a mayor and fifteen aldermen, three from each ward. From these are selected two commissioners, representing two wards, while the mayor represents the third.

The commission possesses the legislative power and is charged with passing all ordinances, but these are subject to the approval or disapproval of the city council. The council has general supervisory powers over all acts of the commission.

The commission employs a city manager who assumes control of city affairs in much the same manner as a manager of a private industry. With the exception of the city clerk and city attorney, he appoints the heads of all departments, and may remove them at will. In order to remove the manager as far as possible from politics, the charter provides that the commission or council may remove him at any time, or after the expiration of six months after he assumed office, he may be recalled by a vote of the people.

The administration of city affairs is divided up into five departments, law, public service, public welfare, public safety and finance.

The department of law looks after all legal matters pertaining to the city, the preparation of ordinances, appearing in behalf of the city in the courts and as prosecutor incorporation court.

The department of public service has charge of all matters pertaining to sidewalks, streets, bridges, sewers, public buildings, and grounds belonging to the city, except parks and playgrounds.

The department of public welfare manages all charitable, correctional, reformatory institutions and agencies belonging to the city; manages all parks, playgrounds and all other facilities provided for recreation, amusement and instructions.

The department of public safety has charge of the police and fire departments.

The department of finance has supervision of all accounts and the custody of all public moneys of the city; the purchase and disposition of all supplies, issuance of licenses, collection of taxes, etc.

The city commission also has the power to appoint a city board, a public health board, a public charity board and other advisory boards as it may deem necessary to the public interest.

With the exception of the city attorney, the heads of these departments are appointed by the city manager. As a matter of economy at the present time, the city manager is acting director of the department of public welfare, public service and public safety. Heads of these departments were provided for in the charter in order that they might be filled at such time as the city becomes so large that it would be impracticable for the city manager to direct the various departments in addition to his regular duties.

The city charter also provides for the initiative, referendum and recall.. Under this provision the citizens may require the commission to consider a proposed ordinance upon the petition of 10 per cent of the qualified voters at the preceding general city election. If the commission rejects or changes the proposed ordinance, the petitioners may require its submission to the council. Should the council reject or change the ordinance presented, a petition of 15 per cent of the qualified voters may require it to be submitted to a vote of the people. A petition signed by 25 per cent of the qualified voters may require an ordinance passed by the commission and approved by the council or the council should fail to take action, to be submitted to a vote of the electors for their approval or rejection. Ordinances passed as emergency measures are subject to the same provisions. No ordinance enacted or repealed under the initiative and referendum may be amended or repealed within six months.

Upon the filing of the proper petition the electorate may recall any and all elective officers and may recall the city manager after the expiration of six months after he has assumed office.

Records show that the first election to decide whether Beaumont should become an incorporated town was held in September, 1860. There were three hundred white inhabitants in this city then, and the incorporation election passed. The corporation lapsed between 1860 and 1881, however, so in the early fall of 1881 corporation of the city was voted again. The election resulted in 115 votes being cast for incorporation and 107 against.

On August 15, 1881, John C. Craig, a merchant whose place of business was at the corner of Pine and Tevis streets, was elected mayor. The taxable value of all property in Beaumont at that time was $491,010, or less than one-hundreth of what the value was in 1924.

On April 4, 1882, G. C. Caswell defeated Mayor Craig and served until his death, which occurred on August 6, 1883.

John W. Keith, who was a member of the first board of aldermen, received all of the 37 votes cast and served out the balance of Mr. Caswell's term.

On April 6, 1884, N. W. Smith was elected mayor.

In April, 1886, Dr. B. F. Calhoun, one of the pioneer physicians of Beaumont, was elected mayor. He resigned June 8, 1887. John B. Goodhue was named mayor pro tem and served until June 27, 1887, when J. F. Lanier, attorney, was elected mayor. After serving four months he resigned, taking effect on October 4, 1887.

A special election to fill the vacancy was then held, and resulted in the election of A. S. John. Mr. John was re-elected in April, 1888, and served until his death, which occurred on February 26, 1889. Alexander Wynn, at that time one of the owners of the Beaumont Enterprise, was elected to fill out the unexpired term. He was re-elected in 1890.

In 1892 W. A. Ives, who later served the city for several years as clerk, was elected mayor.

Mayor Ives served two terms, and was succeeded by John E. Eastham.

In 1898 D. P. Wheat, who later served as county judge and judge of Jefferson county court of law, was elected mayor. He defeated W. R. Caswell by the narrow margin of three votes.

Judge Wheat resigned in 1901 to become county judge and was succeeded by Thomas H. Langham, who had served the county for many years as sheriff and tax collector. Mr. Langham served until 1906, when he was succeeded by E. A. Fletcher, who held the office until 1918, declining to offer for re-election.

Dr. E. J. Diffenbacher was elected mayor in 1918, and the end of his term saw the passing of the old aldermanic form of government, which consisted of a mayor and six aldermen.

With the adoption of the new charter, B. A. Steinhagen was elected mayor and served two terms. George J. Roark became the first city manager and served throughout the Steinhagen administration. Dr. J. B. Swonger and T. A. Lamb were the first city commissioners.

J. Austin Barnes, attorney-at-law, was elected mayor in 1924.

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