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United States. Office of the US High Commissioner for Germany / A program to foster citizen participation in government and politics in Germany

2. Local government,   pp. 9-11 PDF (2.1 MB)

Page 9

operation with the Radio Branch, Information
Services Division. Particular attention will be paid
to the development of radio forums on current
questions of public interests.
(8) Films
No special film program has been developed.
A sound local government system contributes to
democracy in two ways.
(1) The individual citizen's concern with public
affairs is limited unless he feels that public prob-
lems affect him personally, and that he can some-
how influence their solution. This is most easily
done at the local level of government, which so
closely affects his daily life.
- (2) Local autonomy is a safeguard against over-
centralization of power with its resulting author-
itarian tendencies.
Local autonomy and the citizen's right to partici-
pate in local government never approached in
Germany the development in the United States,
although it had a strong basis in parts of Germany
prior to World War I. The centralist tendencies of
the Weimar Republic impaired it and it dis-
appeared under the Nazis.
As a general rule, the ordinary citizen does not
participate actively in local government. In some
communities officials and local councils discourage
such participation and take active measures to
prevent it. Where citizens are encouraged to partici-
pate, it is the result of a democratic attitude of
individual officials and not a matter of an estab-
lished system or of legal right.
While the constitutions in the U.S. Zone Laender,
and German practice in the past, recognize the
authority of local governments to manage their
own affairs, in practice the state ministries inter-
fere. The situation is further complicated by the
German practice of delegating the administration
of state laws to individual local officials (rather
than to the local government entity), who for that
purpose are considered to be state officials and
subject to the detailed direction of the state min-
isters. This creates a divided loyalty and in prac-
tice impairs the local official's independence in
performing his local duties.
To support German leaders who encourage
citizens to study their local governments and who
(1) to establish the right and practice of partici-
pation by citizens in local government, and
(2) to further local autonomy.
As illustration, citizen participation might include
a system of public hearings by local councils or of-
ficials before policy is determined, and access of
citizens to public records and generally to in-
formation upon public action taken or proposed.
Citizens might participate directly in local gov-
ernment where appropriate, as, for example,
through parents' committees in connection with the
schools or through local school boards with effective
administrative responsibility. Generally, the devel-
opment of! a closer relationship between and re-
sponsibility of local legislators and officials to local
voters is desirable and may be promoted by elec-
tion by popular vote, by name and not by party list.
As to local autonomy, it might extend to all mat-
ters which can be effectively undertaken or control-
led at the local level, the state retaining only general
supervision and the right to enforce compliance
with the law. To carry this out the local legislative
body ought to have authority over local executive
and administrative officials and the power to take
remedial action where such officials refuse to carry
out legislative determinations. State functions might
be delegated to the local government as a whole
rather than to an individual official. Local in-
dependence will remain weak until tax resources
are redistributed so that local governments control
the bulk of their own revenues through authority
to levy and collect the necessary taxes.
The establishment of a considerable number of
citizens' and community associations was noted un-
der the preceding discussion dealing with Citizen
Participation. These associations and local forums
have interested themselves to a considerable extent
in local government. Where local officials have been
receptive, they have been successful. Where local
officials have been hostile they have generally been
unsuccessful because the law supports the officials
or because the citizens do not know how to enforce
such rights as they have. Citizens have been barred
from council meetings and denied access to public
records, information has been refused to the press,
and citizens have been threatened with criminal
prosecution when they attempted to assert their
rights or to carry out a civic improvement on their
own initiative.
Occasionally, however, citizen groups have been
successful in overriding official opposition. It is
fairly evident that the will exists to participate in
local affairs, but practical methods to effectuate it
must still be devised.
A local government school was established in
Wuerttemberg-Baden in 1949. An expert from the
British Zone was loaned to assist in the initiation
of this project. This school holds repeated sessions
of one week each for members of local government
councils (not for officials) to orient them on their
rights and responsibilities and effective methods
of work. This school will be continued in 1950, and
Bavaria and Hesse will establish similar schools.
The constitutions of the U.S. Laender provide for
local autonomy but these constitutional provisions
appear not to have been fully implemented by law
nor to be observed in practice by the state min-
The "Deutscher Staedtetag" developed a draft
municipal law and discussed it with the Land Min-
istries of the Interior and communal associations.
OMGUS views on local government were circulated
to the same groups. A law incorporating many
desirable features and eliminating past limitations
on local autonomy has been introduced and has
considerable support in the Bavarian Landtag, al-
though so far the Ministries have blocked its
passage. Other Laender have also prepared legis-
lation, but it is not very satisfactory, nor does there
seem to be much public support in Hesse or Wuert-

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