I began spreading around the idea of creating a solid waste program. For the first six months, though, no one would listen. First, the idea of contracting out this service was contemplated, but that offered all the problems of starting a new program and none of the extras like litter pickup, recycling, junk collection, bulk trash removal, and the cleanup of illegal dump sites and creeks.
With no city solid waste collection, Millersville had 12 private haulers picking up garbage, most of which used trucks that seemed to distribute more trash along the roads than they picked up. Close to half of the residents did not even choose to use a private hauler and were content with burning trash, taking it to the county dump, dumping it illegally, or taking it to the dumpster at work. In a few cases, we found people who had collected garbage for decades in bags and left them in their backyards.
It took two years to convince the commission to let me develop an in-house, comprehensive solid waste program. We went through several workshops and public hearings. I wrote several proposals, contingencies, truck bids, and budgets and eventually got the go-ahead. I was lucky to have had Millersville's most forward-thinking commission. I started by purchasing an automated side-loading garbage truck, a rear-loader semi-automated truck, a satellite truck, and a knuckle boom trash loader. I ordered tote carts and worked with a local designer and our city manager, Robert Mobley, on a new logo to be used for our tote carts and trucks.
I also hired three new people to work on the program and trained them myself with the help of Stringfellow, Metropolitan Nashville's Solid Waste Department, and other cities who allowed us to observe how they operated their systems. I did not have my new GIS up and running, so I designed the routes by writing onto a map the number of houses along each road and grouping roads into routes with equal numbers of homes.
Designing routes was the easy part. The day we began delivering the tote cart containers, is when things got tough. We picked the coldest week of the year, and one in which we had an ice storm. The tote cart wheels and axles froze to the bottom of the containers, making assembly and delivery extra challenging. But despite the 12-hour days for the first few weeks of the program we actually had a lot of fun. Hiring the right people and having your truck dealer close by really helped.
When residents began to receive the first bills was when I really had to go to work on my search for Mayberry in Millersville. I learned a couple of things that others might find useful:Political battles are won one person at a timePeople are generally nicer in person than on the phoneWhen people say, “This city has never done anything for me,” the correct response is, “What would you like us to do for you?” Then do the best you can to fulfill any expectations without exceeding any limitsPublic education is crucial and needs to be simple, to the point, and conveyed through as many different ways as possible (public hearings, Web sites, pamphlets, television, radio, and face-to-face contact)People hate change even if it is goodMost people feel better about paying for services if they understand how they workResidents appreciate the small, simple services if done correctly and on time more than they do the bigger, more expensive servicesPeople don't see what you do right, only what you do wrong—so public mistakes should be minimized through good planning, monitoring, and changing when neededThe public is always right, but some times they're misinformed.
A Happy Ending?
Have I found Mayberry in Millersville? Not yet, but I can taste it with every phone call that ends with a thank you and every smile when a service is done well. I make sure that I get out and speak with residents face to face when I have time and welcome anyone into my office. I make sure that when residents come to see me they find “Mayberry” in my service and in my office.
I have put the sum of all my learning and experiences into this “Quest for Mayberry” and I won't let it fail, but I know it will take time. The next step in my quest is to make sure a city park is within one mile of every resident and that they are connected by walkways.
The new solid waste program has been operating for several months now, providing weekly garbage services, litter control, recycling, and bulk and junk item cleanup. We have eliminated many eyesores, picked up massive amounts of litter, and are providing a well-run city service.
I will know that my goal has been accomplished when I see kids playing in our creeks again, civic clubs forming and current ones growing, and home buyers looking for property in Millersville. Maybe one day I will see a car stop in the middle of one of our roads and the driver get out to pick up a piece of litter on an otherwise clean road. Then I will know with certainty that the people love their community.
This article is dedicated to good teachers, good commissioners, a great boss, my two wonderful sons whose adoption is almost complete, and my sweet wife who is bearing our third son.