EDITORIAL – The trashman cometh? DEH offers some hopeful news

At long last, officials seem to be taking as seriously as the disgruntled public the issues at Cayman’s Solid Waste Services. Some problems, of course, cannot be hidden or, to employ an inexact metaphor, “swept under the rug.” Garbage collection is one of them.

Therefore, our day became a bit brighter last week when it was announced that Richard Simms, director of the Department of Vehicle and Equipment Services, and Mark Bothwell, who manages the Public Works Department’s Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Unit, will be leading the Department of Environmental Health for the next three to six months. During that time, keeping garbage collection on schedule will be their top priority.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of why it took so long for the DEH to assign these responsibilities and announce an action plan to an increasingly – and justifiably – frustrated public (and the politicians who represent them) the move is a good one. Perhaps now we will see relief from the deficiencies that have led to exorbitantly high overtime expenditures and unreliable (and, at times, nonexistent) trash pickup that have plagued Grand Cayman since late last year.

Already, we are told, Acting Director Mr. Simms has reintroduced twice-daily inspections for collection vehicles to ensure they are in good working order. He says he will work to maximize the vehicles’ useful life by fully utilizing warranties and service agreements. Readers will well remember that equipment deficiencies are one of the many vague “explanations” that have been offered in response to questions about persistently unsatisfactory garbage collection services.

Officials say that Mr. Bothwell, acting as assistant director for DEH, will focus on personnel issues – which have also been targeted as the cause of the department’s woes. It is said he will build upon work that began early this summer, with disciplinary action taken against chronically absent employees and other poor performers, along with “emergency appointments” of solid waste drivers and assistants.

If employee absenteeism and poor performance persist in the department, Mr. Bothwell should waste no time in showing the offenders the door. As noted entrepreneur and performance coach Tony Robbins has observed, the surest way to improve your life is to raise your standards – a motto that should be inscribed on the wall of every civil service manager’s office.

Concurrently with these initiatives, officials say the department will undergo a review of trash collection routes to ensure they are efficient and effective. All told, the strategy seems sufficiently comprehensive to identify the department’s weak links and deficiencies, thus setting the stage for a highly functioning (or, at minimum, a functioning) solid waste collection system.

Of course, assurances are one thing; execution is what really matters. Given past failures to address this simple and fundamental issue, we will limit our applause until the system is truly fixed.

Importantly, even the best-laid plan for improving trash collection does not absolve government of its duty to clarify the status of Environmental Health Director Roydell Carter, who has been on unspecified leave since late last year.

In a free, open, and presumably transparent society, government does not have the luxury – or the right – to withhold information of this nature from the governed.