Friday, January 7, 2011

Why I Should Be The Next New York City Sanitation Commissioner

I know. You're thinking "how could she be qualified for the job just because she throws out the garbage?" And I say to you "like Mayor Bloomberg and Cathy Black think she's the best candidate for the job of Schools Chancellor because she once attended school."

Actually, I could do that job, too. My three kids went through or are currently in a New York City public school, and I run a health center in a New York City public high school. I have put in real life classroom time. But I digress--she hasn't screwed up yet so her job isn't at risk.

So, how would a nurse practitioner and midwife run the NYC Sanitation Department? Why do I not aspire to replace the embattled chief of Emergency Medical Services since I am a health care provider and administrator, trained in provision of disaster services, and have ridden ambulances and done my share of night shifts in NYC public hospitals? Nope, don't want that job. I already have one that holds me responsible for acts of nature and other things totally out of my control.

The sanitation commish didn't see that his people got the streets cleared, and the OEM didn't issue snow emergency orders. How is it his fault the ambulances got stuck and the poor firefighters and EMTs couldn't schlep all their equipment through the drifts and carry the patients on stretchers to the nearest hospital?

You might not know I have a longstanding connection to garbage. My ex-husband's father worked for the Sanitation Department and kept us up to date on all the doings. Three of my neighbors were garbage men. The father of one of my college buddies was in charge of snow removal in the days when Mayor Koch ruled the roost and I heard, first hand, how he figured it all out when the legendary storms of yesteryear threatened.

I live within sniffing distance of the Pelham Bay Landfill, and my father was on the New York City Planning Board trying like hell to get it capped and closed before it leached any more toxins into Long Island Sound. I studied environmental sciences, including solid waste management, while doing my MPH. My then father-in-law was so thrilled that I was studying the Betz Avenue incinerator where he worked. To quote: "Ya see, that here Columbia University is sending their students to learn from me. Who says there's no future in garbage?"

I learned well, which is why I am such a rabid recycler and a member of organizations such as Save the Sound and The Nature Conservancy. I also learned a lot from the sanitation men in my life. They are a hard working bunch of people, albeit a trifle sexist and rough around the edges. But they handle garbage, which most of us really don't want to.

My current garbage men are a lot more dedicated than my current mail carrier, who tosses mail into the bushes when the steps are too icy. By the way, how come I only got two deliveries of mail between December 24 and December 31? What happened to "Neither rain nor sleet, nor snow nor dark of night...?" There I go again, off topic.

Poor John Doherty seems like one of the goodhearted sanitation man giants of my past, boasting on December 26 that his snow removal teams were the envy of those near and far. He steadfastly defended them even though the only plows I saw during the blizzard and weeklong aftermath were either double parked in front of restaurants or running up and down the streets with the plows up. Come to think of it, that could be one of those "men" things, like forgetting to put the seat down and swearing they wiped off the rim of the bowl.

I guess Mayor Bloomberg wasn't out in the storm while he continued with his snotty nosed bluster (ever heard of tissues and decongestant?), blaming us for shoveling snow into the streets (now really), abandoning cars in snowdrifts (because we had nothing better to do after we dutifully shoveled walks so the City didn't issue us summonses), and that we shouldn't call EMS unless it was a real emergency, not because we were sick, trapped, or freezing on a stranded NYC subway train without food, water or a bathroom.

Mother Nature cleared the snow by allowing temperatures to go above freezing. Most of it has melted--at least enough so that cars can park catty corner on top of the mounds, which are now mostly ripe, rotting holiday leftovers, gift wrap, boxes, and Christmas trees.

So, if I were Sanitation Commish here's what I would do:

Immediately reinstate alternate side of the street parking. Send a plow, with the blade LOWERED, to scrape away the icy remnants. Behind it should be a sweeper to collect the schnibles of garbage and recycling blown about in the wind. And behind that, a truck collecting garbage.

I would have to consult about the feasibility of the plow being down while the workers tossed garbage into the back of the same truck to maximize manpower and clean up a two week backlog. There might be technical issues that I, as a non garbage man, am not aware of. That's what my second in command, who should be a veteran sanitation worker who has made his way up the ranks, is for.

But the cynical administrator in me believes that the real rules against doing double duty aren't in place for worker safety or because of the limitations of the trucks themselves, but rather union rules which would insist on double time if the men were doing BOTH garbage collection and snow removal at the same time. Remember, my father-in law and neighbors were garbage men and shared a lot of insights.

Anyway, slapping myself back on track again, on the second round of alternate side of the street cleaning, all the snow will be gone and the recycling, including the Christmas trees, should be collected. In one week it will all be done and there will be no football games at Yankee Stadium and New Year's Eve Times Square Cleanup to distract attention from any other areas in The Bronx or Manhattan and the entire boros of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

But in the event we get another big snowstorm, any remaining garbage will be encased in ice and snow, thus minimizing the stench, rat and raccoon raids, and loose schnibles of paper, plastic and metal being bandied about by gale force winds. The Christmas trees can be propped upright in the drifts, indicating there is indeed garbage under there to be addressed, not some irreverent New Yorker's carelessly abandoned vehicle. A nice touch would be to hang birdfeeders from the branches for the poor pigeons and sparrows.

Plan B would be, after discussion with my second in command, to plow the garbage and snow at the same time and deploy manpower with shovels and brooms to deal with the remainder, before resuming Plan A. Having a background in environmental safety and infection control, I will insist my men be fitted with masks, gloves and the proper personal protective equipment, and get hazardous duty pay.

All hyperbole aside, I think that Mayor Bloomberg should, in the future, get out there with a shovel and ask "How am I doing?" like former Mayor Ed Koch did whenever the City was faced with a crisis. Instead of insisting that we're all just cry babies, using something besides his mouth would enlist all of New Yorkers in a united effort to take care of each other as well as clean up the City.

That would be a lot more effective than blaming the victims and demonizing his commissioners who had lapses in judgment or, like him, over exaggerated their omnipotence, were out of the City or out of touch with the National Weather Service, or caught off guard from all the holiday cheer.

Arrogance and apathy trickles down from above, which is why I really don't want the job. But thanks, anyway.