Monday, October 5, 2009

Mystery tire tracks, bureaucracy, pizza and outreach

I spent almost all of today on the telephone, but tonight I got to hang out with flesh and blood people and talk about community outreach.

The City of Springfield's 311 Call Center has been promoted as a helpmeet to the city's residents, but I have not warmed up to it. Sometimes It feels as if its main role is to protect city employees from having to deal with the public. When I'm calling a city department, it's usually because...hmm, let me see....oh, yes, it's because I want to talk to somebody in that department, not someone at the call center.

I called Helen Caulton-Harris at the Health and Human Services Department to see if she'd received the letter detailing the health risks of the wood-burning plant proposed for Springfield by Palmer Renewal Energy and got right through (to her voicemail, anyway).

I called the Election Office about a voter list and, as usual, was treated with friendliness and efficiency.

But getting through to the Department of Public Works to follow up on the tire tracks all over the neighborhood was a different story, one I won't bother to go into here, because I've already had my say to a call center supervisor and don't feel like getting anybody in trouble. Well, maybe I do-- but I won't, because my main goal was to find out how it happened that a DPW solid waste truck marked up so many streets in my neighborhood.

(However, seeing as I've made what appear to be anti-worker statements in my last two posts, let me just add that yeah, I may understand the surliness of workers in underpaid or job-insecure positions, but I don't excuse it. I've had my fair share of menial jobs in my working life, and they are only bearable by being the best human and doing the best job that you can.)

I'd posted a link to my DPW blog post on our local Springfield online forum, and had some interesting comments, one in particular by either a DPW worker or someone close to one. This person pointed to cutbacks in both drivers and mechanics, and talked about threats to employee and public safety.

Fellow blogger Mark Alamed, who writes the exquisite Exploring Western Massachusetts, emailed me a different idea.

The marks are caused by the driver setting the air brakes while the truck is still rolling. It's about the same as if you were setting your car's emergency brake while the vehicle was still in motion. With frequent stops, drivers are too impatient to let the vehicle roll to a complete stop before pulling the brake.

I work on many local town and city vehicles and this occurrence isn't exclusive to Springfield. In fact, at my shop we designed a special "wrapper" spring leaf because of how often the rear spring "eyes" of recycling trucks were snapping due to this driving style. It takes some torque to snap 3" wide, .447 thick spring steel. When both "eyes" break, the vehicle has to be towed to a repair shop, adding to the repair expense. The wrapper leaves generally eliminate this issue and the vehicle can still be driven to a garage even with broken spring "eyes."

Unfortunately, from my experience, chances are slim that this practice of pulling the air brake prematurely will be corrected.
I did eventually talk to two very nice people at DPW, one of whom will talk to the driver of the truck assigned to my neighborhood to see if he can figure out what happened and how it can not happen again. Will I ever find out? I don't know.

More calls, until I thought my arm would fall off:
-- I called the guy in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs who'd told me that the work of the analyst who reviewed the environmental certificate for the biomass plant had been reviewed by a second person to tell him that that person knew nothing about it and had not been involved in the review.
-- I called the office of the Secretary Ian Bowles, EOEEA, to see if I could get a copy of the report on the environmental justice policy that he was supposed to deliver to the Legislature on January 1st of this year.
-- I called a reporter to see if I could get her interested in a substantial story on Palmer's proposed plant but found out that she has a conflict of interest-- wonder what it is?

Finally, I went over to Arise to do the second half of the ward representation outreach training and got to eat pizza with down to earth people. Now I'm home with my cats and the History Channel-- did aliens really help provide the technical information to ancient cultures to build the pyramids? And tomorrow is another day.

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