[Editorial] The Incredible Bulk

[Editorial] The Incredible Bulkthumbnail
Published: August 8, 2012 @ 7:36 PM EDT

In Roselle Park, bulk is important. You can raise our taxes, you can sign away 30 years of property taxes for a PILOT program, you can increase our financial responsibilities by $1 million over five years, but mess with our bulk – and you’re going to have a problem. Over the years bulk has been an important thing to residents. It dwindled from six times a year (every other month) to three times a year to twice a year down to once a year. Every time there was a change there was an uproar. Well, not really an uproar but complaints to council members and mayor. The gist of the complaints was ‘Hey for the taxes I pay I want my bulk picked up’.

Everyone understood, the politicians as well as the residents. It was a given. Pick up our bulk and we’ll tolerate the other things. Well, this year there was another little kink thrown into the mix. The possibility of having one town-wide bulk pick-up and one only for those who applied (and paid for) a permit.

And that’s where the problem started, but it didn’t end there. For those unfamiliar with what happened with bulk pick-upin June of this year,  things weren’t picked up that residents had put out for pick up years before. TV sets for example were left behind. But, adding to the problem, some people had their TVs picked up while others did not. Then some things that were not explicitly on an ‘unaccepted’ list were left behind. And it just got worse. People were told to put their stuff back out but the word did not get out effectively so it ended with people wondering, “What happened to our bulk pick up?!?”

Well, below is a list of what lead to one of Roselle Park’s sure things become a fiasco.

  1. Absent Mayor: Mayor Joseph Accardi went on vacation when bulk was going to happen. That’s not the problem. The problem was that some on council, and a large majority of residents, did not know he was going on vacation. So when things started to go wrong, people tried to reach him by phone and e-mail but did not get an answer. Compounding to the problem was that the mayor lost his phone while on vacation. Last year, when Tropical Storm Irene hit the mayor was front and center. He was making phone calls, posting on Facebook on a continuous basis. He even had a live telecast to inform, calm, and united residents.That was what people needed but since he was not in contact, nor did he tell most that we was going away on vacation, that major component of preventing this year’s bulk problem from snowballing was not there.
  2. Permit-Based Pick-Up: When this year’s bulk was being discussed during various budget workshops, the idea of having a ‘paid-for’ bulk pick-up was discussed as a way of alleviating the financial burden for the municipality while giving residents a second bulk pick-up.  Permits would be applied for and residents could share the burden if they did not have enough to meet a pick-up weight maximum that was to be applied. This was to happen as the second bulk pick-up in the fall. Then, in March, that permit-based pick-up was moved to become the first bulk pick-up in June. For the next couple of weeks that was the plan but, in May, it was changed back again to a townwide-no permit pick-up. This factor, which was changed a month before the pick-up was to occur, had an affect on the preparation for the pick-up since bids had to be changed in order to cover the cost for a town-wide instead of a selective pick-up.
  3. Last-Minute Approval Of Bid Contract: With the decision to return the first bulk pick-up to the townwide one without permit/fee, the governing body had to approve a contractor to go throughout the borough. That contractor was voted on and approved at the last meeting in May, only one month before the pick-up. That lead to the bulk notice being rushed which ended up looking like a rushed put-together notice. A prime example of this was that there was no point of contact for whom to call if residents had any questions on the notice. Would resident call the DPW? Borough Hall? Their council representative? The mayor? Those questions would come into play later when things started to fail.
  4. Inconsistent Material Pick-Up: The first day of the bulk pick-up had people coming home to find that things they had always put out year after year was still on their curbs. Some things were clearly on the list such as TVs, printers, paint cans, and car batteries. Other things, apparently were not taken because they fell under the broad category of  ‘contractor  generated construction material’ such as carpets (not carpeting), bundled wood (under 6 feet), old cabinets, etc. To add to the problem some people had their ‘unacceptable’ material taken while their neighbors had not. This inconsistency was a problem within the same household where a screen door was taken but the hinge part of the same door was left behind. It was so bad that even the former mayor had put stuff out that he had to take back in. He was just one of many long-time residents who put out what they had always put out only to have it left behind.
  5. June 16th Budget Workshop: Immediately, issues were being reported to council with the east side pick up. During the budget workshop council made the decision to pick up wood and other things that were left behind but did not fall under the unacceptable category. Unfortunately, the east side of town had been done and residents had already started putting their left materials back inside.
  6. Absent Superintendent: The DPW Superintendent was scheduled to take off time for a personal function in advance. That was not a problem, nor should it be misconstrued as the issue, as it was planned and noted in advance, but when there were complications with bulk pick-up there was no information available as to contacts in case alternate means of collection and disposal. There should have been a standard listing that should be available to either the person left in charge when the superintendent is unavailable or, at the very least, the council liaison to the DPW. The fact that information had to be found cost time which affected addressing problems with collecting and disposing on bulk over the weekend.

The aftermath of all these separate issues left the mayor again calling for a Chief Administrative Officer (even though the person he recommends, Doreen Cali, was connected with two of the problems) and resulted in him reading a statement which accused everyone else of the problem (see “The King’s Speech” for more).

The problem was more than just the simple failure of bulk pick-up. It was supposed to be one of Roselle Park’s sure thing that always happened and could always be looked on by elected officials as ‘giving the people what they want’. Instead, it ended up a fiasco where people were pointing fingers and leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouths about what exactly happened to their bulk and, essentially, their government.

The answer? For bulk and perhaps other matters is to have a contingency plan book. It would be cheaper than a CAO and it could be used by whomever is appointed as the step-by-step guide as to what to do ‘in case of’. Take for example when contractors needed to be called on Saturday when the one the borough had used suddenly declared bankruptcy; there should have been a list of phone numbers and contacts to reach out to in order to address that problem. Now, will every scenario be thought of? No, but having a plan in place to deal with major issues would have avoided all the issues that made bulk a problem. Hopefully, the ‘Lessons Learned” report which the mayor asked for will address those issues and constructively result in improved service and restored faith from residents in their government because as it stands, people are caring less and less and openly saying, ‘Well, what can you do? It just keeps getting worse.’ This lowering standard of what to expect from our government is becoming commonplace and it is the job of our elected officials to be honest and do something to make residents expect more from them . . . and get it.