By the 1830s, many Americans were disturbed by government corruption. At that time, newly elected presidents replaced bureaucrats from the previous administration with their campaign workers and contributors, which purged the bureaucracy every four to eight years, creating de facto “term limits” for most bureaucrats. This practice was known as “political patronage” or the “spoils system.”
Efforts began to replace the spoils system, because many considered it to be the source of government corruption. America’s elites argued that bureaucrats should be selected from “qualified” elites, because they knew how to run government better than “common people.”
After the assassination of President Garfield in 1881 by a disgruntled campaign worker seeking a government post, the elites had their opportunity to pass the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created a “professional” federal civil service. The Act meant that most office seekers would have to be “qualified” to obtain a position, but they would eventually be virtually guaranteed lifetime employment, which led to the modern permanent bureaucracy known as the deep state.
With no direct accountability to the voters, the deep state is free to pursue its own agenda and continues to maximize its power and compensation.
This “political reform” has merely transferred power from our elected representatives to unelected bureaucrats who have proven to be just as corrupt as politicians.
After their success at the federal level, America’s elites turned their attention to local government. One of their shrewdest “inventions” was the council-manager form of government in 1908 that’s now employed by many cities. Voters choose the chief executive officer of the federal government (president) and of their state (governor), but aren’t allowed to choose the CEO in any city using council-manager government.
The CEO is the city manager, the “chief bureaucrat,” with the exclusive power to hire and fire city employees. The “highest” elected official, the mayor, is merely a member of the city council and has no authority over city employees, so there’s no “turnover” of the bureaucracy after each election. All a mayor can do is to try to convince a majority of the council to “direct” the city manager to achieve specified “policy goals.”
The council does have the power to hire and fire the city manager, but has no direct control over any other employees, which creates a permanent bureaucracy that is as isolated from the “will of the people” as the federal deep state.
Since Galveston is a council-manager city, voters have little meaningful control over its permanent bureaucracy. Council members are subject to term limits, while the city’s bureaucrats are unaffected by elections and free to stay as long as it suits them. It should be obvious who usually has the upper hand in this “arrangement,” which is how our city’s bureaucracy has become our deep state.
Regular turnover in our city’s bureaucracy would make it more difficult for it to maintain its domination of our government. If Galveston changed its form of government to make the mayor the CEO, bureaucratic turnover would be much more likely.