I took a call this week from Sara Walker, who identified herself as the neighbor of the Library Avenue man who triggered a first-in-recent-memory meeting of the Board of Health by pumping sewage from his basement into his backyard.
Walker said she felt the city isn’t doing enough.
“My property’s been devalued,” she said. “My family ‘s been made sick. ... We’ve been sick all summer. It’s an absolute nightmare.”
Walker said she was frustrated with how long it took the city to act and with a general lack of communication. She is worried her own yard has been contaminated, she said, and that she doesn’t know what to do next. The city provided her with an air scrubber for her house, but she said that creates its own issues.
“That sucks the heat right out the front window,” she said. “I’m cringing at what my energy bill’s going to be.”
The hearing was triggered by an order authorizing the city to clean up the property. The board has 30 days to issue a written decision upholding or modifying the order.
Clocks Running Down
Former Aldermen Sam Gorruso said the city could be a little gentler about trying to get people to switch out their water meters.
The city is in the middle of switching over to a smart meter system. Every meter in the city is being replaced, but individual property owners need to schedule the replacements. Gorruso went before the Board of Aldermen on Monday and said he was “personally offended” by a letter he got from the water department leaning on him to schedule his change.
Gorruso said the letter arrived after he had been dealing with health and business troubles.
“I’m threatened here by a letter that says I am going to be charged $750 a quarter on my water bill based on having three bedrooms in my house,” he said, continuing that he has never spent that much in an entire year. “I think it’s a real blow in the face to get such a letter.”
Earlier in the year, Public Works Superintendent Jeffrey Wennberg said such notices would serve as the final attempt to get holdouts to schedule their meter changes. He said that if the city cannot measure water uses, they will charge using an estimate that assumes there are two people living in a house for each bedroom. At the meeting Monday, Board President Sharon Davis explained this again, saying there would have been multiple notices prior to the threatening one and Gorruso could avoid the charges, but he needed to act fast.
“November 1 is the deadline, so you’ve got to do it pre-November 1,” she said.
Good for the Goose
The last time the city debated bias training, then-Alderman Ed Larson quipped to me that perhaps the Herald should undergo such training as well.
Whether he was being earnest, taking a potshot or some combination of the two, it’s something I’ve been advocating for the Herald’s newsroom for several years.
In 19 years on the staff, I have shared the newsroom with a total of 25 (unless I missed someone) reporters. Only one of those was a person of color. Every editor I have worked under during that time has been white. I don’t think that makes the Herald inherently racist, but it does mean that as an organization, we have a narrow range of experience that can limit our ability to understand certain perspectives. With more nonwhite faces on our city’s streets and racial issues playing more of a role in local news, we could absolutely stand to have someone help us look at how we think about these subjects.
Every editor I have brought this up to has said it was a great idea. It never happened. It may yet — our current leadership seems keen on the idea.
I don’t see a single meeting scheduled next week in City Hall.
But Friday is the day the budget is due. Comments from Mayor David Allaire indicate it’s going to be a rough year in terms of the city’s insurance premiums. We’ll see what that means next week.