The New City Government January 1, 1898 Part I

 
 

Make Up of the New City

The Greater New York became an accomplished fact by the signature which Governor Morton affixed tot he bill submitted to him on May 11, 1896. By the terms of the bill which thus became law, the new municipality was made to comprise five boroughs, which were designated respectively: Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Richmond. The Borough of Manhattan consists of the territory embraced by the lesser City of New York (i.e., Manhattan Island), Governor's Island, Bedloe's Island, Ellis Island, the Oyster Islands, Blackwell's Island and Ward's Island. The Borough of the Bronx is bounded on the east by the East River and Long island Sound and on the west by the Hudson and includes the territory north of the Harlem as far (roughly speaking), as Mount St. Vincent and Mount Vernon. All the islands off shore which are not included in the Borough of Manhattan, are also part of the Bronx. The Borough of Brooklyn consists simply of the territory hitherto belonging to the City of Brooklyn. Of Queens County the borough known by the same name will embrace all the territory west of a straight line drawn from the most southeasterly point within the limits of the Town of Flushing (say roughly, Floral Park), to the ocean, where it enters the channel between Far Rockaway Beach and Shelter Island. The Borough of Richmond consists of the county of that name, more generally referred to as Staten Island.

The enlarged city, which will be the next largest in the world to London, will include a score of cities, towns and villages ranging in number of inhabitants from 500 to 2,000,000; it will cover an area of 360 square miles, and will have a population of about 3,500,000 persons. The number of its municipal employees alone will be larger than the regular army of the United States.

The New Form of Local Government

To govern this immense territory, the charter of the Greater New York arranged for the election of a mayor, a controller, presidents of the various boroughs and two houses of municipal legislature, a municipal council and a board of aldermen.

First among these elective officers is, of course, the mayor. It has frequently been asserted during the past few months, that next only to the President of the United States the Mayor of Greater New York will be the most important elective office in the gift of the people of America, and there is much to show that the statement is not an exaggeration. The Mayor is elected for a period of four years, and is to be paid a salary of $15,000 per year. He may not be a candidate for re-election for the term immediately succeeding that during which he has served. To him is given the appointment of the heads of departments and commissioners and to him is given also the power to remove from office during the first six months of his term of office, any public officer, excepting only members of the judiciary and members of the Board of Education, these not being appointed by him. At the end of the six months he may remove appointees from office only when charges have been brought and the accused has been given an opportunity to be heard, and even then the removal from office must meet with the approval of the governor, expressed in writing. Should charges against the Mayor himself be submitted tot he governor, the latter has power to suspend the chief officer of the city for a period not exceeding thirty days, pending an investigation conducted by the attorney general, and should the charges be substantiated, he may remove the Mayor from office.

Once a year the executive will make a statement to the municipal assembly regarding the financial standing and the general condition of the city, offering suggestions and discussing plans for improvement and the general policy, much in the same manner as the President does in discussing the affairs of the nation in his annual message to Congress. Not that the Mayor is restricted to this one occasion on which he may express his approval or disapproval of any line of action, or submit plans for improvement. On the contrary, the obligations of his position enjoin upon him the necessity of recommending to the municipal assembly all such measures as he may deem expedient, and he himself is "ex-officio, a member of the council. In addition, he has the power to appoint two commissioners of accounts, who will make an examination of all the accounts, of receipts and disbursements sent by the various heads of departments to the offices of the controller and chamberlain, at least once every three months, reporting immediately to the mayor. Finally, he has the power to appoint three or more persons to act as commissioners to enforce regulations for appointments to, and promotions in, the municipal civil service. These commissioners will arrange for the holding of public examinations, and for the judicious conduct of this important branch after its inception. They will receive no compensation.

Should the mayor veto any ordinance or resolution passed by the municipal assembly, it will require the vote of five-sixths of the members of both the council and the Board of Aldermen, to pass such resolution over the veto, provided that an expenditure of money be involved, and of two-thirds of the members, even if this be not the case.

Despite the fact that the mayor has such extensive powers, two members of the charter commission (Mayor Strong of New York, and ex-Mayor Seth Low of Brooklyn), considered that these powers should have been made even more extensive, and that he should have been given the authority to remove at will, even after the expiration of his first six months of office. This, they claimed, was but reasonable and would make the responsibility of the mayor more pronounced. Especially should he have this authority, they claimed, in regard to the police department. The majority of the members, however, held that such a step would only weaken the effectiveness of the police department, and that regarded as a whole such extreme powers might in a short time become a menace not only to the city, but even to the entire state, as the patronage might be used to effect personal and partisan ends, and the person using it might control a state or even a national election.

The City Chamberlain and the Controller

One of the most important offices in the gift of the mayor is that of city chamberlain. This official will act to some extent as treasurer of the city. He will receive and deposit all moneys paid into the city treasury, making such deposits within twenty-four hours after the receipt of the same, and the banks and trust companies in which he makes such deposits will render a weekly statement to the city controller of the various amounts of city money received and paid out by them. The chamberlain, who is appointed for four years at a salary of $12,000 a year will be obliged to give bonds in four different sureties, to the sum of $300,000. In addition to depositing all moneys, this official will pay all warrants which are presented to him signed by the controller and countersigned by the mayor. He will submit his bank book for inspection by the controller on the first Tuesday of every month and during the last month of the year his accounts will be thoroughly, audited by commissioners. The banks and trust companies to be used by the city will be decided upon by a majority voice of the mayor, the chamberlain and the controller, who may change their banking houses as often as may be deemed necessary. At least the current rate of interest will be exacted from all banks or companies to which the city's money may be intrusted. The chamberlain is not permitted to receive any fees or commissions in addition to his regular salary. For the keeping of books showing the receipts of money from all sources, the expenditures upon appropriations, etc., the chamberlain, like all other heads of departments, is permitted to appoint deputy chamberlains and assistants.

The controller, who is very properly appointed directly by the people is really the head of the city's financial department. Upon him devolves the duty not only of checking the willful expenditure of the public money, by the heads of the various departments, but also the protection of the city from the payment of illegal or extortionate claims. He is given to powers to settle and adjust all claims either on behalf of, or against the city, and in his official capacity he may oblige all persons appearing before him in relation to accounts or bills against the city to be sworn and any false statements made to him under oath will be, by virtue of the act of consolidation, considered perjury to the same extent as though they had been made in a court of justice. He will see that the appropriations for the various public works are not exceeded, as every contract entered into in connection therewith will require to be countersigned by him. His salary is fixed by the law at $10,000 a year. He is given the power to appoint a deputy controller and the requisite number of clerks, also a collector of assessments and arrears and a receiver of taxes, with clerk and assistants for these departments also both of the last named officials will be required to furnish bonds in the sum of $25.00 each. To him also belongs the power of appointing auditors and deputy auditors, the number and salaries of these employees being left entirely to his judgment and approval.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The New City Government January 2, 1898 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle January 2, 1898
Time & Date Stamp: