Is it really true that our city manager form of government was foisted upon our forebears by a nefarious plot 100 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan (Maine Voices, March 31)? Let’s look at some actual facts:

At the beginning of the 20th century, political progressives began agitating to apply, at the municipal level, the same sort of civil service system that had, by then, been established at the national level. Namely: the regular application, by professionally qualified public servants, of the laws and policies enacted by elected officials, under the supervision of those same officials. The result was the spread of the city manager form to all corners of our country. It has been found to be particularly effective for small and middle-sized cities. It has certainly served Portland well.

It must be understood this was a project of progressive-minded reformers. To characterize it as “markedly less democratic” because it replaced a system based on political patronage with one based on a civil service concept makes no sense at all. And, because the Maine KKK (motivated by anti-Catholicism) chanced to grab onto an issue they’d played no part in formulating – to argue that this somehow discredits the city manager system – is utterly ridiculous.

Likewise, to say that the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce should now grovel in apology for the KKK’s gratuitous intervention in a debate that happened 100 years ago, and furthermore promise not to express its position today on a matter of great importance to its members: This is to go from the ridiculous to the downright silly.

James Roberts

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