Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

power breaks down every principle of sound government. From time immemorial it has been recognized that enforcing officers should not also be legislative ones.

Moreover, in most cases there is no necessity of vesting discretionary powers in the superintendent of buildings. The practice grew up originally in New York City at a time when New York's building code was an act of the legislature. Under these conditions it was inconvenient, and sometimes impossible, for owner and contractors to wait nine months or a year until they could amend the law in the legislature, and because of this situation the superintendent of buildings was given the power to modify the law.

This situation does not exist, however, in many cities. Most building codes are local ordinances, adopted by the aldermen. In most cities the aldermen generally meet about once a week and it is very easy-if some provision of a building law is wrong-to secure the necessary amendments to it through the regular legislative channels. No hardship is thus involved.

This is the only way in which building codes should be amended -namely, by the legislative bodies which enact them, not by

administrative officers. Most important of all, Local

however, is the fact that when a code is amended Ordinances

in this manner, the code is amended generally and affects all citizens equally. The public also is aware of what is going on and knows what it has to expect. It is also in a position to make known to the local legislative officials the reasons for or against any proposed change, and bring to bear upon them the full force of public sentiment.

How different this is from the other process of permitting one man, the superintendent of buildings, in camera, to set aside or suspend the operation of some provision of the law in the interests of some particular builder, architect or contractor. What rich opportunities for favoritism and graft such methods open up!

New York sets the standard for the entire country in its building laws. There is probably no American city which has not a building code that is modeled on the New York statute. This is naturally so. The problems of building that occur in that great metropolis have to be worked out satisfactorily there, and it is only proper that other cities should take advantage of the experience of the larger community. Unfortunately, however, New York's building code (not only

the proposed one but also the present one) is a New York's

whited sepulcher. Anyone reading it would Code

gather the impression that it is a carefully drawn series of provisions, providing in minute detail for the manner in which buildings shall be constructed in that city and safeguarding the public interest at every point. Apparently, it is. But the value of these seemingly carefully drawn provisions is vitiated by the fact that the superintendent of buildings is given a general blanket power to modify or set aside every provision of the code at his pleasure, at any time, and this power is limited in no respect, the conditions under which it may be exercised are not prescribed, nor is any publicity provided for his decisions; they do not even serve as precedents binding upon the department in similar cases. What is more important than all, his acts are not reviewable by the courts. Is it any wonder that with such a condition of affairs building departments have for years been the synonym for graft and corruption? In addition to this general power to set aside the law, it will be found that the superintendent of buildings has in numerous sections all through the code been given the power to modify those particular sections.

Allusion has been made in this paper to the similarity between building codes and tariffs. What would the country think of a tariff law which provided a duty of so many cents a pound on wool and then provided, “Unless the President of the United States shall think otherwise "; provided a duty of so many cents on glass and iron and sugar and all the other commodities and after each carefully worked out provision had a proviso, “unless the President of the United States shall think otherwise?" The country would hardly take such a tariff law seriously. Its effect upon business interests would certainly be disastrous. Yet this is the situation which governs in the building industries in practically all of our cities. The situation which I have described in New York is not peculiar to that city; there are few American cities where a similar one does not exist. Such a condition of affairs puts a premium upon dishonesty in public office.

a

On the other hand the situation is not to be met by creating some board of appeal with power to overrule the decisions of the superintendent of buildings. This brings about even greater evils. It means division of responsibility, with all that that implies; it means that the head of the department ceases to be the head. A superintendent who desires to escape responsibility and to permit some form of construction in a given case which he is not quite ready to stand for publicly, because of his fear of the consequences, readily appreciates the value of “putting up proposition of this kind to a board, the members of which have no individual responsibility. On the other hand an honest superintendent of buildings should not have his decisions, which are sound and in the interests of the public, set aside and reversed by a board without responsibility for the administration of the department.

The way to meet the situation is to give the superintendent of buildings full power to enforce the laws, not to make them; to have his decisions final, subject to review only by the courts; to create no board of appeals, to permit no modification of the law except by the law-making bodies. This satisfies every situation, except that it does not provide for the changes that are constantly going on in the building industry and the development of new processes and the use of new materials. There is one sure, simple and

satisfactory way to meet that situation : Provide Board on

a board of men to pass upon building materials Materials and Processes

and building processes; require that whenever

anyone wishes to introduce the use of a new material or a new process the matter shall be submitted to this board; that prolonged and properly supervised fire and strength tests of new material shall be made under the board's supervision, with complete records kept of the results; upon approval by the board of these materials they shall then become legal and when once used in one case may be used in the future in similar cases. A further requirement for complete publicity with regard to the records and actions of such a board will in every way meet the situation. Powers to be given to a body like this should be limited strictly to the passing upon new materials and new processes, and the board should be made up of disinterested members

of architectural, building and engineering professions and the various trades interested in and competent to pass upon these subjects. The members should be appointed by the mayor of the city, preferably from lists submitted by the leading professional and trade societies; they should receive fees for each meeting they attend and should be removable by the mayor at any time. By no other method will corruption be eliminated from our building departments.

To sum up: Building codes should be definite, clear and precise. They should afford no opportunity of discrimination between individuals; they should encourage the use of new materials and processes, the development of the city, the building-up of property and should protect at every point the health and welfare of the community.

The Boston Finance Commission.

HARVEY N. SHEPARD, BOSTON,
Lecturer on Municipal Government, Boston University.

In the year 1906 it became apparent to all, as indeed it had been to some for many years, that the financial and social condition of Boston was in urgent need of serious consideration. The city expenditures had grown to be $20,000,000 a year and the debt to over $100,000,000, or nearly ten per cent. of the value of its real estate. Party politics controlled nominations and elections. There were so many names upon the ballots that the at

tention of the voter was distracted, and it was Conditions

impossible for him to know the men for whom in 1906

he was called upon to vote. This remained to a large measure true, notwithstanding the separation of state and city elections, notwithstanding the adoption and use of the Australian ballot in its simplest and best form, and notwithstanding the excellent work of the Good Government Association in furnishing to the people the records of those candidates who already had held public offices.

The government of the city was complex and irresponsive to public opinion to the last degree. The council consisted of two chambers, the aldermen elected at large under a system which divided them roughly between the two principal political parties and made certain the election of a majority of those nominated, and the councilmen elected by wards and so shorn of power as to have become almost an idle and useless debating society. To the mayor had been given all the so-called executive powers, including appointments to office, the direction of public works, and the making of contracts. Naturally the party machines bent their efforts more than ever to capture this important position, and the mayor tended to become much more the ostensible head of a party machine, distributing offices and work to reward and strengthen his followers, than the chief magistrate of a great municipality. Moreover, the mayor's exclusive control of contracts encouraged the making of these in the secrecy of his

« AnteriorContinuar »