Time To Leave: Public Services in City Politics

. January 18, 2019.
Untitled design (88)

As hard as it might be to believe, we thoroughly respect the platform given to us by this column. Every couple weeks we have a few hundred words to inform, incite, and inflame. The power of the pen is indeed mighty.

In keeping with the basic mission of this fish wrapper, we keep it local, stupid. We avoid delving too far into national political conundrums. The local political arena is target rich enough without getting too far off base.

Still and though. There’s one local hot button issue that can’t be properly understood without at least acknowledging a global issue. Climate change. Setting aside whether it is caused in any way by human industrial activity pumping carbon into the atmosphere (hint: yup), climate change is real, kidz, and it’s here.

And it makes providing proper public services in the region a freaking bloody nightmare.

Tidy town

Three of the most basic of public services are leaf collection and disposal, snow removal, and grass cutting. Tons and tons of leaves fall in yards and lots across the fruited swamp. Citizens dutifully transport them to the curb, expecting they will be removed. The snow flies, and everyone forgets how to leave appropriate stopping distance while looking for snow plows and salt trucks to criss-cross the region, The grass pops up and noxious weeds flourish in public parks and boulevards until public crews are deployed to tame the jungle.

Fortunately, these three public scourges are seasonal in nature. They progress predictably across the calendar. The leaves fall in September and October, to be collected in October and November. We can expect a bit of snow toward the end of leaf season, with heavier amounts through late December and into the New Year. Then, as Spring arrives, so do the weedy patches. An orderly progression of public challenges to be met and conquered.

All of which makes for an efficient way to keep the streets clear and public spaces neat and tidy. The same public employees can be deployed, on a seasonal basis, to accomplish all three tasks. The fall leaf collectors can switch over to driving the snow plows in the winter, then cut grass in the spring and summer. Heck, some of the same folks can even be used to drive the street sweepers! Easy peasy.

It’s all paid for by property tax assessments, making for a predictable stream of cash to pay for it all. Voila! A predictable workforce, doing predictable work, with a predictable cash flow, means efficient public services, and sparkling public space!

Climate of uncertainty

Oh, if only ‘twere so simple. Enter the changing climate. Where it’s ninety degrees in September, and the trees still have all their leaves into October. Then suddenly the temperature plummets, and all the leaves drop at once. The workers scramble into leaf collection mode, with mere weeks to try to clear countless streets.

But lo! What darkness through yonder window breaks? ‘Tis a snowstorm! The leaves be damned, the workers must scramble to transition into full-on snow removal mode. Until the following week, when the temperature rises into the fifties, the leaves are wet and menacing, and they must rush back into leaf collection.

Which likely won’t be complete by the time the springtime rainy season hits, the weeds raise their ugly seed-filled heads, and the parks become impassable tangles. The rains now dump inches of water within hours, soaking the ground. And they last for weeks. The workers must transition to the mud-strewn fields to tame the beast, if the rains subside enough to allow it.

The tidy seasonal predictability destroyed, what is to be done? How can leaves be collected within weeks, with a tidy transition into unpredictable snow removal? How can grass be cut when it rains and pours for a month? How can a transition be made into leaf collection when the leaves stay put into the winter?

Those are the unsolved mysteries of our time. The administration that finds the answers will be heralded as heroes. Wade, your move.