THE MUNICIPAL ENGINEER

THE MUNICIPAL ENGINEER

At a recent meeting of the Institution of Municipal Engineers. Western District, held in Worcester. England, B. Wyand, secretary of the organization, read a paper treating of engineering as a profession. In substance, he said that there no longer exists the need to drive home the fact that municipal engineering is a distinct profession. There was a time when the statement would have been met with a shrug of the shoulder or a curl of the lip. To-day no dispute is possible. The profession is recognized universally. and its separate existence is proved in that the Legislature is the one notable exception that has not yet awakened to the fact that this very lusty infant is among, us and is making vigorous outcry for its rights. The pedigree of this interesting infant is lost in obscurity. Road foremen. inspectors of nuisances, village grocers, expolicemen, drapers and civil engineers of the old school are among its progenitors, and it is possible that each of these crossings has had its healthy influence upon the matured product. Municipal engineering is a profession which will some day be found to have usurped the whole field of engineering, except that form known as government engineering. The consultant will, I am afraid, have a very bad time; but the inevitable has to be faced. As matters are now, the municipal man is not encouraged to prepare schemes of any magnitude, and many who are really capable—there are, of course, quite as many (if not more) who are not capable—conceal their knowledge. There is always trouble about payment when the salaried officer is concerned, and when a fee is arranged it is usually only a proportion of that which the consultant would be paid. Honorariums are merely a means to an end—the end being the payment of an amount equal to about one-tenth of that which is morally due. To come back to my point, however. In every direction now municipal trading is being extended. Municipal schemes to run means more responsibility for the officer, and the necessity for a better class of officer—a more highlytrained and more intelligent man. This, again, means higher salary, larger staff, and better accommodation, together with the less frequent requisitioning of the consultant. It may be urged that never was the consultant so in evidence as during the last few years. It is quite true, but it has to be remembered that he is largely engaged in installing first schemes. Extension will not, in scores of cases, go to him; for the necessity for a highly trained man to run a concern does away with the necessity for another highly trained man to repeat, to improve or to extend what has already been done. There has been much talk of late about improving the status of the profession. The term is a misleading one. What is wanted is to improve the status of the members of the profession, and every man who realizes that he is an adviser, and not a servant, is working on right lines. Municipal engineers must realize their own importance. I do not mean that they should cultivate deep voices and contort themselves into ponderous attitudes. 1 mean only that they must feel their responsibilities, and recognize the fact that supremacy is their place in local life. Even the chairman of the council is merely a cipher when contrasted with the municipal engineer, and he should, as far as possible, be made to feel this. The chairman may be the better man in many ways; but when it comes to engineering he should be made to recognize the fact that he must play fourth fiddle, and must feel happy that he has not been relegated to the orchestral triangle. A man is estimated in this world much at the value lie places upon himself, and the humble, shrinking individual who is led by his council is never likely to command either respect or a periodical increase of salary. The blatant gentleman who boasts freely is much more likely to succeed for a time; but his day is not usually a long one, and he is the last man to make capital out of a reverse of fortune. I will say nothing harsher of councillors than that they are entirely unnecessary, and I am sadly afraid that security of tenure will be difficult of attainment so long as district councils exist. It is not to be expected—it would be foreign to human nature that councillors would welcome the continued services of a man with whom they had quarreled and pf whose services they had endeavored to rid themselves. The life of the officer would be a miniature hell; indeed, things would be made so unpleasant for him that he would welcome resig nation. The sole duty of the council should be the making of the rate, and this could be as well done by one man as by 20—the collector could, in fact do it. Directly a council concerns itself on engineering matters it becomes ridiculous, and the effect of its interference is to hamper the technical officers. These should be appointed by a central controlling authority, and should be removable only for misconduct, or at an age when a pension (and a sufficient one) falls due. Their appointment would, in fact, be a life one, with promotion to larger appointments as vacancies occur. They would be responsible to the central department only, just as are police and postoffice officials. What would happen were these classes appointed and dismissed at the pleasure of small iocal bodies? Perhaps, when councils no longer exist, the municipal engineer will be appreciated at his true worth. Until then but little can, I fear, be done. The question of salaries is all important. Municipal engineers are usually woefully underpaid and overworked. Higher salaries and less hours of labor would reduce the ranks of the unemployed, and the overcrowding question would not recur for years. There would be room for thousands if proper and sufficient staffs were engaged; £150 ($750) a year should be the minimum salary for even a deputy or chief assistant. The full qualifications for a municipal engineering appointment are so many and so varied that no one man could satisfy a standard. The essential qualifications would place no light tax on a man’s abilities, and none should be appointed without these. Some towns have, I believe, passed resolutions to the effect that no man should be appointed who has not passed the examination of the Institution of Civil Engineers, qualifying for at least associate membership. This is, of course, pure nonsense; indeed, so far as municipal engineering goes, the examination is threefourths sheer waste of time. While there are special examinations for municipal engineers it is as ridiculous to ask a man to pass another as it would be to ask a judge to pass in surgery because he might on some occasion have to hear an action in which a broken leg w a s introduced. That some limitation should be imposed upon the appointment o f quite unqualified men no one will deny, hut it is equally important that the test to be undergone shall be a reasonable one. It is to be hoped that councillors will not allow themselves longer or to any further extent to be hoodwinked by men whose interest is with an alien profession. It must not be forgotten either—and I cannot lay too great a stress upon it—that civil engineering as practiced is only ode branch of municipal engineering. A calculating boy or similar wonder need not necessarily make a good municipal en gineer. I have no hesitation, in conclusion, in placing municipal engineering at the top of all the professions. It is one in which the duffer can never shine, and there is no other profession of which this can be said, except perhaps that of the barrister, and he, unless possessed of special talent, has no chance unless he be promoted to the bench.

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