Despite comparable safety statistics, benefits for the public works field aren't considered comparable with police and fire.
In Chicago, all city employees receive the same life insurance coverage as part of their basic compensation package, but pension benefits are higher for police and fire than for municipal and seasonal employees. “It's the pensions that are a recruiting tool for the best employees, and they are the best way to retain an experienced staff,” explains Sam Polonetzky, retired coordinating engineer with Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation. “Employers have to realize the benefits to the public of having a good pension plan.”
Yost might be more comfortable financially now, but it hardly matters, considering that her daily lunch dates with her husband all too suddenly became a thing of the past. Her friends at First Presbyterian keep her spirits up by encouraging her to get out. They take Ken's place sometimes during those meals. But the void left in her family and in the city is irreplaceable.
“I wonder if other towns with potentially dangerous citizens can engage the services of a mental health care professional as a consultant,” she says. “And I pray that friends and family of other disturbed individuals in other places might have the foresight and courage to warn local authorities before it's too late.
“If (family and friends) were worried about (Thornton), I wish they would have warned somebody.”Smooth talk
How to keep a lid on yourself and others when encounters heat up.
Few residents become irate enough with their local government to murder one of its employees, but that didn't stop Sam Polonetzky from being concerned about his safety.
Nine years ago, Polonetzky retired from Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation as a coordinating engineer, capping off a 34-year career laced with incidents ranging from gang crossfire on the city's South Side in 1970 to a handful of neighbors in the primarily Polish enclave of Marquette Park turning their garden hoses on him and his crew for surveying an alley.
“When you're out on the street, your flag might as well be a bull's eye on your chest,” says Polonetzky, who co-chairs the scholarship committee of the American Public Works Association's Chicago Metro Chapter. He was the target of commuter ire during a rush-hour in the late 1980s as he patched potholes on Lake Shore Drive, a major thoroughfare. “That afternoon I must've had three to four cups of coffee thrown at me,” says Polonetzky, who considered leaving the department several times but stayed because of the financial security it provided during tough economic times.
He didn't get much help from police during his career. “They don't want to be bothered with things like a contractor coming at you with a shovel because they've got bigger issues,” he says.
Professional conflict-resolution training is the best preparation for handling restive customers, according to Rudy Nydegger, professor of psychology and management at the Graduate College of Union University in Schenectady, N.Y., and a past president of the New York State Psychological Association. Make sure that the trainer (if he is a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker) has a state license, and ask former clients if they'd engage the trainer's services again. Expect to pay $500 to $3,000 a day, but don't be afraid to ask the provider to develop a program that fits your budget.