From the date of its incorporation in 1898 down to the year 1910, Muskogee’s municipal affairs were carried on under the old aldermanic style, with two councilmen chosen from each ward and a mayor elected at large. Party politics controlled the elections and politicians controlled or dictated the selection of city employees, party allegiance rather than efficiency, being, too often the test of eligibility. As the years advanced, the rapid growth of the city called for extensive public improvements and the expenditure of rapidly increasing amounts of public funds, which created a sentiment among the taxpayers in favor of taking the city’s affairs out of politics and placing them upon a purely business basis. Early in 1910 the business men of the city organized a “Charter Government Club,” and advocated the adoption of the commission form of government. This form of municipal government had proven very successful in Galveston, Texas, while recovering from the results of its terrible flood disaster. Des Moines, Ia., had been operating under a commission form of government for several years and was finding it vastly superior to the time-worn alder-manic form. Numerous other progressive cities were adopting it, and at the earnest solicitation of the business men of Muskogee, the City Council reluctantly consented to submit the proposition to the voters of the city. Franklin Miller, Myron White, R. M. Eades, DeRoos Bailey, Preston C. West, John D. Benedict, A. C. Trumbo and U. L. Jackson were chosen by the voters to write the new charter. The charter provided for four commissioners and a mayor, each to be given entire charge of one department of the city’s business and each to be held responsible for the successful management of his department. The charter was adopted, and the Charter Government Club nominated a non-partisan ticket, pledged to put into effect the provisions of the charter. The politicians, however, who were opposed to the new form of city government because it meant the loss of distribution of city patronage to them, nominated a partisan ticket and elected it.
The commission form of government failed, not because it was not good, but because the officials elected to carry out its provisions had no sympathy with the reform movement in municipal affairs and made no earnest effort to put into practice, either the spirit or the letter of the charter provisions.
Wrangling over the distribution of patronage and over questions of conflicting authority among the various city officials continued until early in 1920 when the citizens drafted a new charter providing for the managerial form of government of the city. By this time a majority of the voters of the city had become convinced that the administration of the city’s affairs should be conducted upon a business basis rather than as a political machine, and with that end in view Muskogee’s new charter providing for the managerial form of government was adopted by a vote of the qualified electors of the city on the 25th day of February, 1920.
It provides for the election of a mayor and sixteen councilmen. The councilmen are nominated by wards on a non-partisan ticket and they, together with the mayor, are elected at large, biennially.
They appoint a city manager who has charge of all the departments of the city. The council adopts all ordinances and the mayor signs all contracts. The council appoints a city manager, city clerk, city treasurer, park board, library board and a vice mayor.
The city manager appoints all other officers and employees and has power to dismiss any of them whenever, in his judgment, the interests of the city so require. Neither the mayor nor any member of the council has any right to request or recommend any person for appointment to any position except on the request of the manager. The manager is given full authority over the city’s business and he is held strictly responsible for results.
In his first annual report to the City Council, Mr. Robert P. Harrison, the efficient city manager, enumerates the most important things accomplished during the year, among which are : No overdrafts or deficiency judgments in any department. A reduction in city taxes for the ensuing year. Paving of certain streets. heretofore begun, has been completed.
The rickety viaduct over the M., K. & T. Railroad has been overhauled and rebuilt. Police night patrol has been furnished the residence part of the city. The water works owned by the city have been repaired and strengthened. Established city automobile and blacksmith shops in which employees make necessary repairs. Abolished some useless city offices and combined others. Appointed a purchasing agent who buys all city supplies in open market at lowest cash prices. Built a fine athletic park with concrete grandstand capable of seating 2,000 people. Completed Honor Heights Park with a pretty lake and popular bathing resort.
The Auto Manufacturing Company employs 100 men, the Cotton Oil Mills sixty men, the Oil Refineries 125 men, the Gas & Electric Company seventy men, the wholesale groceries 225 men, the Muskogee Tool Company fifty men, the Muskogee Iron Works fifty men, the Midland Valley Railroad Shops 325 men, the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad Shops 200 men, the M., K. & T. R. R. Shops 250 men, while the broom factories, mattress factories, tent and awning factories, laundries and other smaller shops and factories give employment to hundreds of men and women.