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National Civic League Created to Rebuild America's Democracy
When the founders of the National Civic League (NCL) first convened in Philadelphia on January 25, 1894--at the time (and until 1987) known as the National Municipal League--the condition of America's local government weighed heavily on their minds. America's democracy at the local level was broken. Local government was corrupt. Nepotism, favoritism, and payoffs were taking place in cities all across the country. These practices hindered the ability of local governments to address the challenges facing them. The trust citizens held in governmental leaders was damaged, creating a breach between citizens and the government that was meant to serve them.
NCL was founded to bridge the "disconnect" between local government and its constituents, which was critical to rebuilding Americas democracy NCL's founders focused on two critical topics: finding ways to professionalize local government and advocating what Teddy Roosevelt called "self-government, where citizens play a key part in making communities work.
Five years later, on November 17, 1899, NCL's board of directors approved the first Model City Charter. In 1915, NCL adopted a "new municipal program," presenting the second Model City Charter, which advocated the council-manager form of government and gave birth to the profession of city management. This new structure freed elected officials to lead and to work with citizens while a professional manager focused on the details required to run the city.
Citizens also had a role to play by running for elected office and serving on boards and commissions. Citizens had to do more than vote every two years in order to perform their civic duty By encouraging self-government, the new council-manager form of city government enabled citizens to live up to, as NCL founder Theodore Roosevelt suggested, being an actor-not merely a critic.
Ironically, 105 years after the founding of the National Civic League, we find ourselves in a situation where, once again, Americas democracy is in need of repair. Indeed, it is more difficult than ever for communities to meet the challenges they face. The issues have grown increasingly complex. Complicated issues such as poverty, race relations, jobs, environmental concerns, crime, and education now dominate the local problem-solving agenda. Exacerbating this situation are a host of underlying conditions, which further hamper …