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The members of the board were expected to make personal visits to the different institutions in order to gather information concerning the efficiency, honesty and economy of their administration, and to recommend such changes as might be deemed essential to their improvement. The board was also directed to conduct an investigation into the conditions of the poorhouses, jails, prisons, etc., of the state.
No one would deny that this was an ambitious and comprehensive program, and that the board, like similar boards in other states, was clothed with power of far-reaching recommendation. But for a summary of the results attained, the student should read the complaints of these boards of wasteful and extravagant expenditures, political influences and other factors which tended to retard development in charitable and correctional administration.
But these were the beginnings in a Western state where crude conditions still prevailed. While the state board could severely reprimand and amply recommend, it possessed no power to compel action. It could condemn the jails and police stations on sanitary grounds, but its suggestions went unheeded from year to year. The most favorable word that can be said with reference to the success of this board is that it was merely nominal. The objections that were urged above against honorary boards, applied to the Wisconsin system of this period. The local boards neglected their opportunities and generally practiced wasteful financial methods. Insufficient time was given to the work, and often incapable management was found. The inspections of the state board usually took the form of friendly calls at superintendents' offices, or upon members of the local boards. The inherent weakness of this system appears in many cases which might be cited showing that irregular and unbusinesslike methods were widely practiced by the officers of the various institutions. Deficits for unauthorized appropriations, false classifications in the payroll, doubling of the weight of groceries and supplies, were among the most common practices. These irregularities were made public in the special report of 1880, and led to the creation of the State Board of Supervision with larger powers of control. The success of this legislation was impaired by the fact that the two state boards possessed conflicting powers. The obvious intention of the legislature was to substitute a more centralized authority for the loosely constituted boards created in 1871. The members of the board of supervision were expected to devote their whole time to their work, for which they received a salary of two thousand dollars and expenses. In order to carry out this arrangement a permanent office was provided and placed in charge of a secretary, who also gave to his duties his whole time and attention.
The most important change made by the act of 1881 was the abolition of the local boards of trustees and the introduction of the simple and uniform methods of administration, which were now possible. In the place of the local board a superintendent or warden was given immediate charge of an institution and was made personally responsible to the State board for its management. The control of the board over each institution was strengthened not only by the abolition of the local boards of trustees, but also by the more detailed and strict accounting required of the head of each institution and by the examination of the local accounts. While this was doubtless a step in the right direction it tended to place great power in the hands of each superintendent. He was the purchaser of all supplies and naturally fell a prey to local conditions, and practices were gradually developed which destroyed efficient and economical administration.
With this dual system of state supervision in operation, it was not long before jealousy and conflict arose over questions of jurisdiction. It was largely due to this condition of affairs that the two boards were abolished in 1891 and the State Board of Control established in their place. At the time of its creation the board consisted of six members, but by the act of 1895, this number was reduced to five. The members are appointed by the governor of the state, one retiring each year, and receive salaries of two thousand dollars and expenses. The purpose of the act of 1891 was to follow out the centralizing tendencies of the act of 1881, which created the board of supervision and destroyed the local boards of trustees. Thus, step by step, this centralization has gone on in Wisconsin until the state has taken a most advanced position among the states of the Union as regards the administration of its charitable and correctional institutions.
The institutions coming directly or indirectly under the State Board of Control of Charitable, Reformatory, and Penal Institutions, are divided into two classes, the state institutions and the semi-state institutions. The institutions of the first class are the State Hospital for the Insane, the Northern Hospital for the Insane, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind, the Industrial School for Boys, the State Prison, the State Public School for Dependent Children, the Home for the Feeble Minded, and the State Reformatory. The institutions which compose the second class are the twenty-seven county insane asylums, the Milwaukee County Hospital for Insane, the Industrial School for Girls, and the Wisconsin Veterans' Home.
A statement of the general powers of the board will aid to a clearer idea of the results of its administration. In the first place, it is charged with the maintenance, government, and direct management and supervision of the various state institutions. It must preserve and care for and make annually a full and complete inventory and appraisal of the property of each institution. The members must make monthly visits to each institution, and provide all needful regulations for the officers and employees, courses of study, tuition and maintenance of pupils. In short, all administrative matters pertaining to the state institutions fall within the jurisdiction of the board.
These powers are sufficiently ample to afford the board an opportunity to develop a policy of charity and reform on broad and liberal lines. In some regards the board is pursuing a policy which was begun under the Board of Supervision, but in other respects it is breaking new ground, particularly in the care of the insane and the direct, unified management of the affairs of the different institutions. The members of the board are in constant attendance upon their duties and consequently bring to bear upon the problem under consideration a wide fund of observation and experience. Naturally a large and complicated business, with its legal and technical phases, has developed certain forms of specialized effort, which affords an opportunity for each member of the board to employ his peculiar talents to the best advantage.
A brief examination of some of the specific problems with which the board must daily grapple will convey a more definite idea of its policy. In view of what has been said concerning political influences at work in controlling the patronage of the state institutions under the supervisory system, an account of the working of the Wisconsin plan in this regard will be valuable. It was the former practice in this state to disregard in great measure the fitness of candidates for positions, and to select political friends and relatives for responsible places. In recent years there has been a gradual elimination of political considerations in the appointments made by the board. The constant growth in the number of offices has demanded a more careful selection of persons for responsible positions. An examination of the table on page 87 shows that the institutions are managed and operated at present by 632 officers and employees, receiving monthly salaries of about $21,062, which places an important patronage directly or indirectly at the disposal of the board. In order to fix responsibility more definitely, the Board of Control has recently decided that future appointments will be made by the superintendents and wardens of the various institutions. Formerly the appointments were
made without consulting these officers, who were legally responsible to the board for the success or failure of their work. In future the superintendents and wardens of institutions are to make all nominations, subject to the approval of the board, and in addition these officers are to have power to suspend, and in some cases to remove, inefficient and rebellious officers and employees. In this manner they are made responsible for the success or failure of their institutions. This is a logical solution of a problem of great difficulty under prevailing political conditions, and must have salutary results. It practically frees the Wisconsin system from the abuses of partisanship, which is a pronounced step in advance.
In connection with the appointments of the board the question of salaries of officials and employees has come up! for readjustment. Under the régime of the local boards the law was usually silent as to salaries, with the result that no general rule was followed. During the administration of the Board of Supervision the legislature fixed a maximum salary, leaving to the board the power to determine the amount within this limit. Under the sanction of this law the board reduced the number of offices and fixed the compensation in accordance with the nature and importance of official duties. This principle has been steadily adhered to with good results, both as to economy and quality of service.
The act of 1891 conferred upon the board powers of a wide scope, which it has been slow to assume. The former practice was to leave the business management and the purchase of supplies to the local authorities of each institution. This system made each institution the prey of the business men and supply houses of the locality, and of the political party in power. There was little or no competition in the purchase of supplies. The old supervisory board laid the foundations for this unbusiness-like practice in Wisconsin as in other states. It was helpless to remedy the abuses which were patent to any observing member of the board. The