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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

City Manager Allen Becomes Trashman of the Day

Want a shocker? Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen collected trash over the weekend, responding to complaint calls and picking up garbage in a dump truck.

Allen said he knows a lot of city residents have been frustrated by not having their trash picked up, and lack of snow removal operations.

“I can tell you that I am equally as frustrated,” Allen said. “There’s no excuse for the curb lanes in the downtown looking as they do. They should have been cleared when the snow was slushy. One day there was slushy snow and they were told to get downtown and clean those curb lanes and it didn’t happen, and it turned to ice and it has been ice ever since. The trash, I had to go out personally Friday evening and pick up people’s trash that had called to complain and I wasn’t very happy about that. And everywhere I drove in the dump truck there were trash cans full of trash."

(Frank Lewis. "City Manager says service dept is “not acceptable.” 
Portsmouth Daily Times. February 12, 2014)

Allen promises a lot of changes will be made in the service department. He is not pleased with the reaction of the department to the stress of the recent cold weather. Allen said, "I don’t know where it’s being picked up from, but it’s not acceptable. And I want everybody to know that. I intend to address that.”

The rotating holiday schedule trash fiasco has been in effect for over two years. The prior, long standing schedule was changed to reduce or eliminate overtime caused by the holidays. Then, analysis of annual overtime revealed some savings but not enough to overcome the tremendous customer dissatisfaction that the change caused.

Early this month, Allen took action to require the city of Portsmouth cease the rotating schedule for trash collection and return to established days that are the same every week and do not change due to holidays.

I wonder what Allen meant when he said he "didn't know where trash was being picked up from"? Does that suggest some residents get trash removal on schedule while some do not? I really don't understand how a city manager could not know the routes and schedules of the service department.

My vision of a city manager employed at a salary somewhere north of $100,000 a year serving as trash man is both comical and ironic. I admire Allen for his direct action, yet I question the lack of a department's response to his directives to solve a nagging problem directly connected to the health of the populace. I understand some delays in operations were necessary due to the adverse weather conditions; however, the trash collection problems have been a constant source of dissatisfaction since the inception of the rotating schedule.

In my town, this is another story of (1) Who ranks priorities? (2) Who is responsible for overseeing their completion? and (3) Who has is actually getting these acts done? For the longest time, City Council and the Company of Influence have taken the role of least resistance that Scioto County officials play so well. Rife with excuses, in-fighting, and lack of cooperation and direction, the city government creaks like an antique machine needing repair and renovation.

People around here have been addressing the same issues seemingly forever. John Wooden, the iconic basketball coach at UCLA who won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period -- seven in a row, said: "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference."

Wooden knew that flexibility is the key to stability, yet he also mused, "Be quick, but don't hurry." Preparing to fail is failure to enforce necessary small steps that lead to greater victories. I believe in many ways, "talking the talk" is inflated air and a waste of vital energy. I read of grand plans for the betterment of our town and our county, and I consider many of them just "talk" -- talk of officials, office holders, and politicians who make their living greasing the wheels of the public imagination.

We have plenty we should deal with now in Scioto County -- policies, addresses, and human beings in need of repair. Holding responsible feet to the fire and accomplishing the "little things" help create a positive attitude through industrious energy being expended. Plans, talks, discussions, and dreams are well and good, but nothing effects needed change like hands-on labor by those solving one little problem after another.

It has been my experience that support from officials is espoused strictly through words. They praise good efforts of citizens willing to do something... anything. Yet, at the same time, the city and county government refuse to lend funds and manpower to certain projects for fear of political disapproval. Holding your position of authority seems to be more important than tackling the smallest endeavors that might just "rock the boat." Of course, many don't want to life rocks and expose misdoings, waste, and criminal behavior.

Direction, direction, direction -- you hear this over and over again. We lack direction and seem to be waiting on a Messiah to lead our little section of Appalachia to the Promised Land. I didn't envision him coming into town from Delta, Ohio, driving a garbage truck. But, then again, I really don't see any one person giving new direction to a group so chained to a bygone, once-glorious past. I don't believe a huge explosion of industry or business or jobs or income is going to change the face of Scioto County.

I do believe a small-step-by-small-step advance to making people proud of their Scioto home will eventually lead to greater happiness and less inefficiency in government. The present problem is that those in charge must produce results with work, not with hollow words. No one is asking for unions to bust and heads to roll. People are just tired of the lack of results and the endless wonder.

A displeased City Manager Derek Allen on trash patrol. I just don't get it. I understand why this happened; however, I, being cautious on the side of overwhelming acts of personal kindness, remember the fact that the Celina, Ohio newspaper, The Daily Standard (Oct. 2, 2004) reported: “Former Celina Safety-Service Director Derek Allen received a $250 fine and a suspended 90-day jail sentence in Miami County Municipal Court in Piqua (Ohio) on September 24 for a count of dereliction of duty, a second degree misdemeanor.”

(Frank Lewis. "Derek Allen will be Portsmouth’s City Manager." 
Portsmouth Daily Times. 2013)

Maybe some folks in high positions should be charged with dereliction if it humbles them enough to make them personally pick up other people's garbage. Still, I don't understand whose truck was being driven and where trash could be dumped on Friday evening. 

Maybe the "manager pickup" does prove that someone may take you seriously if you complain enough. But, there again, whose trash was picked up on Friday and whose trash was ignored? Damn the cooperation and the coordination in my hometown. It reminds me of driving down a street in Portsmouth, being stuck in traffic behind a truck decorated with a floodwall mural and watching the trash workers wheel receptacles from individual homes, not curbs, dump them, then return them to their appointed places. A Christmas bonus might go a long way.

Trash, trash pickup, trashy town -- we need to clean up the trash that has blighted our town. The question remains how to "clean up" the things that negatively effect the most people in our town. Who is going to tell whom how to do what when no one knows if anyone is in charge? 

Trash talk is cheap. I'm guilty of doing it on this blog. On the other hand, getting city government to create a healthy environment -- pick up trash, stop smoking in public places, tear down hazardous and unsafe structures, remove criminal elements from trusted positions -- is expensive. We live with the negative influences that have instilled a climate of distrust and depression in Scioto County. Just a few improvements -- one tiny step at a time -- might just create positive direction. Will Derek Allen be a person who instills needed change?

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