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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 88, no. 22 [i.e. 2281]: December 2, 1911

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W)^^. Vol. LXXXVIII DECEMBER 2, igii No, 23 LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN RICHMOND. President Cromwell, Years Ago, Developed an Administrative Organi¬ zation Which Has Recently Served as a Model for Other Boroughs. IT would take a deeper philosophy than ours to explain the remarkable differ¬ ence in the political traditions ol the two boroughs of the city that resemble each other niost industrially and socially. The borough history of Queens under the Greater Kew 'York charter is a record of graft and mismanagement; that of Rich¬ mond exhibits local government at its best. The administrative organization developed in Richmond has served largely as a model for the reorganization of the borough governments in Manhattan and the Bronx, put through in the last couple of years. Whatever other moral the history of Richmond may point, it leaves no doubt that good government is dependent raore upon men tlian upon charters. Unfor¬ tunately, this conclusion leaves untouched the question why some communities show a willingness to elect the right sort of men, while others do not. The voters of Richmond have kept their present Bor¬ ough President, George Cromwell, in oflice since the consolidation of the greater city, evidently appreciating the import¬ ance of retaining an official of proved ability at the head of the local govern¬ ment. RcA-ised Charter Brought Home Rule. George Cromwell has been the sole occupant of the borough presidency of Richmond since the consolidation of the greater city. The first four years were years of centralized government, with practically no home rule. The borougii presidents were little more than figure¬ heads, so far as their local work was concerned, though they occupied posi¬ tions of importance in the Board of Pub¬ lic Improvements. The revised charter whieh ■^\'ent into effect January 1, 1902, abolished the Board of Public Improvements and placed upon the borough presidents a large measure of responsibility, though even at present the departments con¬ ducted hy the Mayor of the city control well over 90 per cent, of its expendi¬ tures, while the borough- presidents al¬ together handle much less than 10 per cent. The Borough of Richmond had very scant consideration in the first four years, but, with the establishment of home rule, President Cromwell surrounded himself .with a group of men who through a .period of nearly ten years have worked harmoniously together for the betterment of municipal work. Recognizing at the start that many of his problems involved engineering work, he selected engineers for the more important positions. The lines of development, therefore, were planned largely to the working out of a harmonious scheme of organization and action, theory being kept subordinate to practice, but practice benefited by theory. The president of the borough, being subject to constant call for conferences with various city officials and for atten¬ dance at various board meetings, found ft would be impossible to attend to all of the borough administrative details in the conduct of public work; consequent¬ ly, his Consulting Engineer, acting also as Commissioner of Public Works, was also authorized to perform many of the functions of the borough president, thus enabling that official, who could most of the time remain in his office, to pass up¬ on matters and giA'e flnal decision, to save the delays that would otherwise in¬ evitably follow. All bureaus, except the Bureau of Buildings, come, therefore, un¬ der ths Commissioner, their various superintendents consulting with him daily as to matters of policy or impor¬ tant details of the work in their respec¬ tive charge. These working bureaus are 'those of Highways, Sewers, Street Clean¬ ing and Public Buildings and Offices. Breaking away from the old-time cus¬ tom of having engineers assigned to each bureau, there to be kept either very actively employed or perchance at times being idle, the plan in Richmond was eariy introduced to maintain a separate engineer corps, divided into two main bureaus. (1) Carrying on the topographic sur¬ vey, which forms the basis for all street planning and public works design. (2) The designing and executing of pub¬ lic ■works, sewers, roads, bridges, cuiA-erts, walls and buildings. This scheme kept a trained corps in¬ tact, yet possessing a flexibility for ser¬ vice impossible under the old and gen¬ erally adopted method. The result has been, therefore, that the Bureau of Con¬ struction Engineering has designed and built sev>'ers, has developed roads, has re- laid pavements, etc, then, when com¬ pleted, tliese various structures were turned over to the working bureaus for maintenance and repairs. Improved .Vccoiiutlng System. In a similar way, along the line of ac¬ counting, the old-time method was the employment of clerks in each bureau so as to accentuate their separateness. Un¬ der the method adopted In Richmond, a central Bureau of Accounts has been es- ■tahlished, which gathers from all of the different construction and working bu¬ reaus their daily official records and then prepares in concise and intelligent form the necessary reports and keeps the ad¬ ministrative books. Each bureau, of course, employs certain clerks to gather and tabulate the daily reports from In¬ spectors and foremen, covering work done, and store accounts; but payments and payrolls and the larger amount of clerical service is handled most efficient¬ ly in the centra! bureau. As the Commissioner of Public Works confers only with the superintendents or chiefs of bureaus, the superintendents in turn advise -^vith their chief assistants, usually called inspectors. The inspectors in turn are in charge of a number of competent assistants, usually called fore¬ men, Avho have assigned to them the requisite number of laborers for their specific class of work. Foremen are prac¬ tically always on the work. The inspec¬ tors cover their districts regularly; the superintendents have to spend more or less time in the office, but as soon as they are free they go out to inspect their respective operations all over the bor¬ ough. The Commissioner, so far as possible, makes frequent trips throughout the bor¬ ough, so as to keep in reasonably close touch with the work of all the bureaus and be able to advise effectiA'ely in the daily conferences, as also to be posted so as to report and confer with the presi¬ dent of the borough as often as necessary on matters of importance. Practically military discipline is maintained so far as the character of work permits. Cost Records Devised. Very early In the work of the admin¬ istration the importance of keeping ac¬ curate records showing the unit cost of work done was recognized, and the rec¬ ords of the Borough of Richmond have on a number of occasions heen taken as a criterion for appropriations for similar work throughout the whole city. Such knowledge is not alone valuable to the taxpayer but is of great interest to the -^vorkers themselves, who can be readi¬ ly trained to take pride in securing bet¬ ter results and lower expenditures -n'hen reliably advised as to what their former work has cost. The County of Richmond was the first to avail itself of the County Road law for constructing macadam roads connect¬ ing various localities. In fact, the Coun¬ ty Road law was developed and became law upon Richmond's initiative. The splendid system of highways constructed prior to and shortly following consolida¬ tion, though not weir maintained for tlie following four years, have been restored to not onlv their former excellent con¬ dition but are to-day maintained at a higher standard, the class of pavement being changed as rapidly as funds are provided to suit the changing conditions of traffic. One of the needs of the borough has been a proper scAi'erage system. This work required a great deai of prepara¬ tion. Information was consistently and scientifically gathered by the Bureau of Engineering, and sewers have been de¬ signed to provide adequately not only for the present but for prospective future needs. To a large extent these sewers have been constructed, but this phase of public work will have to continue for many years to come as new districts are created and old ones are extended. It was early recognized by the borough president and his staff that the point of Staten Island nearest the Borough of Manhattan (the old City of New York), spectacular in topographical features, would in all probability always be the point first seen by visitors to the borough. Consequently, here was the place to de- A'clop such a civic center as should be suitable, conservative, spacious, and ar¬ tistically beautiful. At this point, there¬ fore, has been erected the commodious Borough Hall and a reference Public Librai'y, and an adequate Court House is now being planned. There is also be¬ ing- considered a suitable structure to house the growing collections of the As¬ sociation of Arts and Sciences, that some day may grow into a museum of art and natural history. A Federal building is also thought of for the St. George district, which now includes a large private academy and the Curtis High School, a beautiful building on a commanding site. A Civic Center at St. George. The municipal ferry has an attractive terminal froni which the civic center is reached by a superb piece of engineering work—^the great stone viaduct. The street in front of the Borough Hall has been widened to 100 feet, and is edged by a handsome retaining Avail, unique in design and construction. It is in the mind of the local adminis¬ tration to branch out from this great thoroughfare (which has a length of three-quarters of a mile) into the boule¬ vard system that shall ultimately tra¬ verse the whole borough and connect all its public paries—small and great. The street system is being planned, not according to geometrical lines but for best adaptation to topographical condi¬ tions and to serve conveniently the dif¬ ferent communities already in existence the otliers to be provided for. The large network of main tlioroughfares is natur¬ ally glA'en special study and prominence, the subdivisions being of less importance. One special phase of work has been carried out in Richmond along pioneer lines which has been so conspicuously successful as to attract attention and in¬ vestigation by specialists and officials from all over the United States and in fact foreign countries as well. We refer to the disposal of household garhage and other refuse. Most communities have scarcely begun to realize that the disposal of wastes had scientific features as well as purely practical ones. The hit or miss system Avas that largely in vogue through¬ out the country—more or less unintelli¬ gent collection and not always sanitary disposal. After careful study and experi¬ menting, it was decided that for Rich¬ mond's topograpliic needs and distribu¬ tion of population the best method to adopt was the establishment of liigh temperature destructors in each larger locality, so as to minimize the cost of haulage. A most successful plant has been in operation for several years with¬ out the creation of any local nuisance, and a much larger plant is now in pro¬ cess of erection. The mixed collections possess so mucli fuel value that they burn without requiring additional fuel, and in the process develop more steann