EDITORIAL – It’s time for DEH to come clean on garbage pickup

With three broken-down trucks, trash piling up and heaps of overtime, the new year is shaping up to be much like the last year in terms of solid waste.

As the Compass reported last week, garbage collectors have been working double time in an effort to catch up on roadside collections. It appears that the problems the department experienced in 2018 are unresolved as we enter 2019.

In a statement, the Department of Environmental Health explained that three garbage trucks had to be taken out of service in late December, causing the delays, and they are awaiting parts from overseas.

That explanation is incomplete. When are these critical parts arriving? When will the trucks be operational. Has someone called FedEx?

Machines break, so it’s possible to imagine trucks, or cars, or washing machines malfunctioning. But three at once that provide essential services to this island?

What happened to the twice-daily inspections promised by Acting Director Richard Simms last summer, which he assured us would ensure critical equipment was in good working order? Are those inspections being conducted? If so, how did the the problems go undetected?

The DEH should have been better prepared. Readers will recall that equipment deficiencies were one of the many vague “explanations” officials offered last year when confronted with justified public anger over DEH’s seeming inability to capably handle this fundamental public (and public health) function of government. Later, of course, we learned that their public assurances repeatedly downplayed the department’s crippling labor, equipment and cost-overrun issues.

It is not clear that officials learned anything from auditors’ scathing report on the chronic dysfunction. Still, officials are tight-lipped about the unexpected departure of Roydell Carter, the longtime civil servant who oversaw the troubled department as the director of the Department of Environmental Health before his retirement last fall, following an extended period of leave.

It is worth remembering that Mr. Carter’s unspecified leave began roughly concurrently with an Internal Audit Service inquiry into his department’s management of overtime (to the tune of $100,000 per month for routine service). Of course, we cannot know anything more unless or until we receive an official explanation – which has not been forthcoming.

Despite the clear public interest that we (and, we suspect, a great portion of the population) see in publicly disclosing the circumstances, terms and possible grounds for Mr. Carter’s unexplained leave and seemingly sudden departure, government has denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Compass seeking details about that case.

The Compass is challenging that decision, asking the office of the ombudsman to review government’s refusal, based, in part, on assertions that a non-disclosure clause prevents the public sharing of any details – including the language of the nondisclosure clause itself.

Increasingly, non-disclosure clauses in separation agreements appear to be little more than an artifice to limit or prevent information from being shared with the public, which deserves to know where and how its government is spending its money.

3 COMMENTS

  1. A few years ago we had two refuse collections per week from our houses. Then because of problems with the trucks we were told that there would be one collection a week until the problem with the trucks was resolved. We were told that new trucks were on order. Those trucks have obviously been received by now and what happens in 2019. Not even a regular one collection a week. To me the problem could be simply resolved, and it is not rocket science. Any organisation operating a fleet of trucks should have a planned maintenance programme and a competent team of engineers to do the work.

  2. Where I live in the UK the local authority contracted out all garbage collection, disposal and recycling to a private company. If they don’t collect they don’t get paid so we get our trash taken away every week (recycling one week, general trash the next) on a schedule you can almost set your watch by. We also have proper recycling centres run by the same company that take everything from garden waste, old oil engine oil, used cooking oil and car batteries to paper, glass, cans, furniture and clothing. As the previous comment states – it’s not rocket science.

    As for the mechanical issues? Sounds like simple lack of maintenance to me. I’m an experienced mechanic who many years ago enjoyed an adult ‘gap’ year temping as a truck driver. Things like garbage trucks don’t just break down, they fail because people abuse them, don’t conduct routine checks or deliberately break them and I’d put my money on all three here simply because this is CIG.

  3. This is the most ridiculous crazy problem I have ever seen or read about. Mostly because it is such an easy fix. This is not a third world country but it acts and looks like it sometimes. It is hard to believe there are educated, reasonable people running this show. Sigh.