French “Model Cities” In Holyoke and Chicopee

by Laurel | January 10th, 2012

Israel Ducharme, Mayor of Holyoke's French Model City

Israel Ducharme, Mayor of Holyoke's French Model City

10 January 1915

Encourage Citizen Making

Mayor, Aldermen and Governmental Machinery Help to Teach American Ideas and Ideals

Two graftless cities! Two cities where political pull counts for nothing, where no breath of suspicion of extravagance is ever raised against the administration, where there are no ward keelers, where the poll tax is but 25 cents a year! That sounds too good to be true, but when we learn that these two cities lie in Holyoke and Chicopee our wonder turns to bewilderment. Before going any further, it is well to elucidate a little. The two cities lie within the limits of Holyoke and Chicopee, but their governments are not the governments of those two cities. Briefly the two cities are “model cities,” or “model parliaments,” created by French citizens with the basic idea of benefiting the French people, training them in municipal government and teaching them the ideals of American life.

The idea originated just about a year ago among a group of French-American citizens of Holyoke who, interested both in the affairs of their race and those of the city, were one day discussing the reasons why a a greater number of French residents did not take out naturalization papers, Holyoke’s record in this respect is one of which the city is not particularly proud. With a population of something like 60,000 she manages to cast about 9,000 votes, while their should be between 15,000 and 18,000 voters, figured on a percentage of population. Chiefly the cause of this seeming negligence is the fat that a great proportion of her inhabitants are of foreign birth, who either do not understand or are indifferent to the advantages of American citizenship.

At any rate, this small group of French-American citizens decided to take steps to start things. Among their number were men who were leaders in civic affairs in Holyoke, men like Israel Ducharme, Dr. H. E. Chaput, O.Z.E. Charest, O. E. Genest, Joseph Lussier, A. M. Potvin, and Charles U. Roy. Their purpose was to get the French people of the city interested in loval govenment; their principle problem was how to do it. A number of ways were suggested, but finally a plan was agreed upon, which was, briefly, to establish a model city government of parliament of their own, which should imitate the real city government in its best features and perhaps add a few improvements.

Voters Must Be American Citizens

There are no elements of racial prejudice connected with the scheme. The membership is limited to the French, because all the members of the original body which conceived the idea were French, and it was easier to work among one nationality. But it must be remembered that before a man is able to vote or hold office in the model parliament he must be an American citizen. Their success is shown by the fact that last year 448 citizens of French birth were added to the Holyoke voters’ list through their efforts, and at at the present time there are 250 more who have taken out their first papers. The organization now numbers about 1,100 who are eligible to vote in the affairs of the model parliament, 992 of whom cast their ballots at the last annual elections in December.

Organization of the Model Parliament

The organization of the model parliament is divided into two branches, the executive and the legislative. The executive consists of the mayor and his cabinet, this last being an innovation in civic affairs in this section of the country at least, and made up of the minister of naturalization, registration education, public works, public health, the general secretary, auditor and legal adviser. The mayor appoints his cabinet and holds meetings with them on the fourth Friday of every month, at which matters of general interest to the city are brought up. No action which they make take, however, is valid without the consent of the board of aldermen, and any action of that body has to be approved by the mayor and cabinet before it can be passed.

There are the usual city officers, such as the city clerk and city treasurer, and there is also a tax collector whose duty it is to collect the 25 cents from every citizen, giving him the privilege to vote. Another officer is the chief of elections, who is in control of such matters as hiring a hall for the voting, arranging for the voting booths and getting the printing of the ballots.

The council or board of aldermen is composed of one alderman at large and two aldermen from each ward, elected for a term of two years, and one for one year. At the last elections the terms of the latter had expired, so a new set, one from each ward were elected for two years to succeed them. Every election is closely contested and arouses as much inteerst among the French citizens as does the regular municipal election, if not more.

The board of aldermen elect their own president of chairman and also a number of committees, such as those on finance, law, amusement and debating. Every committee consists of five members chosen at will among the aldermen, except the committee on finance, whose membership consists of the mayor, the president of the board and three aldermen. Meetings of the council are held on the first and third Fridays of every month, and any alderman is privileged to bring in any order or business of any kind which he feels is important enough to warrant the attention of the board. Last year one of the principal subjects of interest was the proposed change in the city charter, upon which the municipal government is at present debating, and the thorough threshing out of this in the aldermanic sessions of the model parliament not only kept the French pf the city well informed of the merits and demerits of the proposed change but was a valuable aid in educating the Hoyloke city government on the same question.

Aldermanic Sessions

Both the mayor and the cabinet are admitted to the sessions of the council. The mayor sits beside the president of the board but cannot speak on any question unless his opinion is asked by some alderman. The cabinet ministers are allowed to make any suggestions they wish, but cannot vote. The public is also admitted to the sessions and their wished may be put before the board directly if any of them desire to submit their opinions in writing. Heretofore all meetings have been conducted in the French language in order to make it simpler for some of the public to follow them, but there is a movement now on foot to have one meeting a month or one in every two months conducted in English to assist the French in mastering that language.

All elections are conducted upon a strictly nonpartisan basis, for the promoters of the model parliament feel that in the government of a municipality such as Holyoke, there is little room for party feeling. Rather, it is the man, his popularity and the confidence which he inspires that is the issue. If he is known to stand on some platform which represents some vital issue that, too, is taken into consideration. The annual election is held on the second Tuesday following the first Monday in December, and a the last election the following officers were chosen: Mayor, Israel Ducharme; city treasurer, F. Bonvouloir; city clerk, Ovile Chaput; alderman at large — ward 1, D. DeLisle; ward 2, W. Beaudry; ward 3, Arthur J. Clouffe; ward 4, Ludger parent; ward 5, J. A. Coderre; ward 6, H. O. Beauchamp; ward 7, Joseph A. Champagne.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican.

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