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The Mayor’s Inaugural Address,
Delivered before the Common Council,
Watertown Democrat, 05 07 1868
GENTLEMEN OF THE COMMON COUNCIL
Following the example of my predecessors, I shall try to lay before you such recommendations for your action as, in my opinion will serve to promote the welfare and prosperity of our city.
Permit me first to express our common felt gratitude to an All wise Providence for manifold blessings that we have received so abundantly in our midst in the past. We acknowledge that, although we are heavily burdened with high taxation - direct and indirect - and other inconveniences, that could not be avoided, we are, nevertheless, doing well.
Our merchants and manufactures are doing a good business; their capital and wealth increases; other and new ones are established; our tradesmen and laborers find ample employment and are well paid. During the past year, many and costly store buildings and dwellings have been erected, and to all appearance, the present season will add materially to their number and beauty.
We may well be proud of the enterprise and industry of our citizens, of their intelligence, of our sources of wealth, too numerous to mention, which are centered within the limits of our corporation. But let us not forget that a great deal depends upon the earnest good will, the wisdom, and the undivided attention of this Council to our municipal wants, to secure the wealth, honor and flourishing conditions that we are entitled to.
Great is the responsibility that rests upon this Council. Our constituents look upon us as the safeguards of their interests. They expect, and have a right to expect, that we will leave nothing undone which calls for our action. Let us not betray their confidence in our willingness and ability to meet and to calm the threatening storm that now blows at our doors.
You will perceive that I allude to the situation in which the city is placed by the decision of the United States District Court, which makes the claims of the bondholders, issued by this city in aid of the building of the several railroads through here, valid. I believe it is not necessary for me to enter into details.
We are embarrassed, on account of them, on every side. Judgments against us have been obtained; other suits have been commenced, and that only on the coupons, and this thing is likely to continue for an indefinite period of time, until all said bonds, when they become due, shall have been sued and judgments obtained, if nothing is done by us to prevent such a calamity.
Other cities have been in the same position, but the most of them have devised means for a settlement with the bondholders, and generally with a beneficial result. Every man of legal knowledge tells us that there is no escape for us from paying or compromising those bonds and judgments.
It will not remedy our evil to complain that we have been wronged or defrauded (whether imaginary or real) by individuals or companies in giving those bonds without first obtaining security. We were all anxious to secure the benefits derived from the railroads. We have now got to meet the consequences.
Can we resist the collection of judgment? Is there an appeal or any way to go round about it? Can we dissolve and be without a city government, remaining in a state of anarchy?
Our duty to our constituents, in my opinion, is very plain. The sooner we get them out of this embarrassment, provided we can, the better we shall serve them. We shall undoubtedly have great sacrifices to make, but that cannot be avoided. The main and perhaps the only question is, what course shall we take to ultimately wipe out our indebtedness?
Some suggest to buy up the bonds at a low figure, and if the bondholders will not come down to terms, repudiate them. Some are of opinion that the best way is to take them up from time to time at such percentage as we may be able to obtain them, until they are all wiped out.
Others, and I think the vast majority, which represent my views in case, are decidedly in favor of using every effort to buy them up in the shortest possible time, at reasonable rates, for which they may be bought. It is confidently believed that if we earnestly go to work, the bondholders can be induced to part with them at low figures, rather than risk the difficulty and time of collecting judgments.
Repudiating payment, Gentlemen, we cannot expect. Waiting until all the bonds have matured and then paying them from time to time, is about as dangerous a policy. They will constantly rise in value, and those holding on will certainly shame us.
Therefore, let us go to work. Let us find men among us who can be entrusted as agents. Let us liberally pay them for their services. Or have we no men of intelligence, of knowledge, of patriotic feeling among us, who may be entrusted with these transactions? It would throw a poor light upon our citizens if we had not. But I tell you, Gentlemen we have such; but they want and must have our undivided confidence. Without it they will not undertake it.
Let us therefore, stand united on this point. Let us employ such men, and listen to their advice. Let us not stick at trifles, and fail in this great object. To redeem the city out of the clutches of the bond speculators - United we must stand, divided we fall.
Our Fire Department has been shamefully neglected for the past three or four years. Whether the fault is with the Common Council, or the citizens, or both, I am not now to inquire. We have a good engine and hose, an engine house, hooks and ladders - everything necessary with which a good fire company might work well. But it seems that there is no disposition on the part or citizens to encourage the organization of a company. Why is this thing to be? We have been very fortunate. We have had no fires of any great extent, but is this going to remain so? Can we reasonably expect that no disaster of an extensive and destructive fire will ever visit us? Cannot our business men induce young, able bodied men to join into a company? I think they could, if they would make the membership of that company a condition of their engagement. This Council should make the membership of such a company honorable, grant them some suitable privileges, and perhaps pay them [a bonus] in great emergencies and by their showing proper appreciation when it appears that such a distinction has been earned.
Streets and Bridges
The Street and Bridge department also requires your earnest attention. Different localities have different interests at stake. Unanimity of action is seldom obtained in questions of this nature. Our bridges, five in number, are in poor condition, are continually out of repair, and very expensive to support. Two others have gone out of existence, which people interested, ask to have rebuilt. Another one as I am informed will be proposed, which would increase the number to eight.
It is clear that on account of the curved course of Rock river through the city, a proportionate large number of bridges will always be required. But it is also clear that a few less would answer all purposes. As a general thing, we have more streets and roads that we are in need of.
But on the east side of the east curve of Rock river and above, they would be of service to give the people connection with the main roads, it is different. Two bridges out there could be dispensed with, if those people could have convenient outlets.
In my opinion, the provision in the Charter making the owner or owners benefited by the laying out of streets, pay the whole damage for the land so taken, should be so amended that it should apply only where one or a few individuals are benefited by it; but where a large community demands a thoroughfare it should be a general charge.
To this I would call your attention. If any new bridge is to be constructed in the future this Council should pay more attention to the curability of the structure than the cheapness of the same.
There is a general complaint among our business men, that they are put to inconveniences and expenses in other cities, by being compelled to take licenses there to enable them to sell their goods, and that this Council has not yet provided an ordinance to license agents and peddlers from abroad, who come here to sell their goods. It is my opinion that this matter should no longer be delayed. Besides affording a protection to our business men, it would also create a source of revenue, which we are in much need of. I, therefore call your attention to this subject.
You will see by the report of the committee on Finance that our city general fund stands in need of replenishing. Whether this is best to be done by raising the licenses or by some other legal means, I shall leave that to your judgment.
In conclusion, let me ask you that you will please to bear with my deficiencies as one of your Council, and rest assured that nothing which is in the reach of my power shall be left undone, to secure harmony, good feeling and dispatch of action.
- CHARLES BECKMAN, MAYOR