[from February 2006 issue]


Following the publication of our comments in this space last month, which we titled, “Let’s Get Back To Basics,” more thoughts along this line kept popping into our conscious mind. This time, though, we got to thinking about the little things that a municipal government ought to be doing as a matter of routine and in a fashion that does not cause citizen angst. After all, it’s the little annoyances in daily life that if allowed to accumulate are what turn otherwise pleasant neighbors into disgruntled taxpayers. And it is those little things which could so easily be avoided by the city’s managers if only they would put their minds to it.

An example that pops out -- and it is one of those annoyances we hear about from time-to-time that leaves one totally baffled (and cynical) about the ability of city managers to make even the simplest request for service happen. We are talking trash -- but not the big trash problems which seem to be ongoing, but the little ones, like the inability to get a replacement trash can dropped off following a request made to the Mayor’s centralized telephone service center. Once again, we recently received a report of someone who needed to have a trash can replaced but has not seen any action despite having been given a confirmation number and a guaranteed date by which it would appear.(The city claims to make these available at no charge to homeowners who are eligible for city trash service simply by making a request to the service center.) As readers have no doubt figured out by now, our little story ends with the fact that as of a month beyond the promised date, no can had appeared and no explanation could be offered.

Then there is the mystery about those much-touted special blue recycling bins that were to be dropped off at all homes in the inner-city neighborhoods that cannot utilize super can service. These were supposed to replace the inadequate little recycling boxes hitherto used -- they would accommodate substantially more recyclables, be on little wheels and, best of all, be outfitted with covers to prevent the rats from jumping in to lick the residue from discarded cans which was (and continues to be) common whenever the open boxes were/are out for the twice-weekly pick-ups.

Now we know the city’s managers were very excited about being able to roll out this big improvement in trash collection service. We even received lots of info and a couple of photos so that we could report to our readers about the plan. Unfortunately, for residents in so many parts of the downtown neighborhoods, the plan, although supposed to have been fully completed several months ago, was just another failed promise -- a will-‘o-the-wisp, if you will.

We heard a number of excuses why things were not working according to plan, including that the contractor seriously messed up and “we were now taking over and would complete the distribution job” -- though nothing seemed to have come of that promise. Another silly excuse for why so many residents were not receiving the bins was that since their collections were on the alleys when inspectors (presumably from the contractor) came through to review the drop-off points behind individual row houses they frequently reported back that there was no place for the bins to be stored off of public space because of fencing at the property line or garages abutting the property line, etc.

Yet, when confronted with the question of whether any consideration had been given to the fact that in virtually all instances, notwithstanding fences or garages abutting the public space, there were/are always gates and doors that open into the private properties where, one would have to assume, the homeowners would hold their new recycling bins as they already hold their trash cans until the assigned trash pick up days. Furthermore, throughout all these alleys, there are properties that for the most part have their rear parking spaces totally open to the alley and therefore no claim can possibly be made that there is any problem about storing these off the public space; yet, even those homeowners have been ignored.

The frustration is, needless to say, aggravated by the fact that nobody in authority will do a darn thing about addressing the matter, notwithstanding sincerely enunciated promises to make things right. So, it just becomes another nail in the coffin of diminished credibility to be ascribed to those who are paid by us to perform even routine services. It would once again seem that the bureaucracy is more fixated on dreaming up new fees to assess and dreaming up new mega-development schemes that have no direct bearing on the quality of life in the neighborhoods. Maybe there will come a day when new leadership will force a change in priorities, but we are not holding our breath for that.