The all powerful Oz

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Dalai-Lamas-philosophy-98445174614A few weeks ago I emailed Doug and Enzo’s executive secretary asking to be placed on the list to receive city-issued press releases. These are public documents and any citizen of the city is entitled to receive them.

There was a little delay, and uncertainty, but in a few days she told me they would accommodate my request. A few days later I received my first release from City Hall, a document that raised many more questions than it answered. I beat it up a little in a subsequent post.

About a week later the Mayor held a press conference to declare how proud he was of the city’s water, and a day or two after that I again emailed the mayor and Enzo’s executive secretary to let her know that I had not received that press release, nor notice of the press conference. Here was the entire message:

Rachel — I did not receive the press release or notice of yesterday’s press conference.

I got this return email the next day:

Dennis,

I have been instructed to advise you to send all future correspondence and requests to Director Cantalamessa, Attorney-at-Law.

Thank you,

So, naturally, the Director of Public Safety and Service (an Attorney-at-Law!) would want to handle my request personally — just to stay busy, since his normal duties in a city with a budget crisis, a drug epidemic, negative economic growth — not to mention his second job at the restaurant — he’d naturally want to handle my routine request personally.

So I played along and wrote to Enzo asking, again, to be placed on the press release list. That was February 5th; I have not received a response and I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for one, but allow me to deconstruct this situation:

The purpose of a press release is to publicly disseminate information. If that’s your goal, it makes no sense to withhold it from anyone. If you’re afraid I might hurt your feelings with my comments, withholding the press release isn’t going to stop that because IT’S A PRESS RELEASE. I’LL READ IT SOMEPLACE ELSE ANYWAY!!

But the real reason Enzo is withholding the information is, because he can. And because I had the impudence to run against Doug last fall — therefore, I am an enemy and must be punished whenever possible.

This is their city, they will run it as they please, and they’ll tell you when you have enough information about how things are going. One of these days soon they’ll be letting you know they need a tax increase or that they plan to outsource the WFD to the Farmington Volunteer Fire Department. Until then just mind your own damn business.

This kind of petty, paranoid, parochial management of all things only leads to increased pain and suffering for everyone else. Take, for example, the discipline issue with the water department employee charged with, and admitting to, “gross misconduct.” By hiding the specific “gross misconduct” he committed, Enzo has only exacerbated the problem.

Half the town (including the Tribune) knows what this guy did, and the other half are guessing even worse things than the truly gross conduct he admitted to. Full disclosure plus swift and fair punishment would have made the news for a day and then moved on, but by hiding the facts, Enzo has generated three stories in the Tribune already; all to protect a political friend, and put the cost on the taxpayers by transferring  him to the already bankrupt General Fund.

When it comes to having enlightened and harmonious political relationships, Enzo makes Dick Nixon look like the Dalai Lama . I believe he is a graduate of the Muammar Gaddafi School of Management.

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Scientists to the rescue!

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atomic-titan-disguiseAn interesting back-story to the drinking water crisis in Flint is the way the situation was finally brought to public light. The citizens were repeatedly lied to by their own government, and not just one branch of it either; the lying took place at the federal, state and local levels. Flint was lied to by both elected officials and the bureaucrats who were supposed to protect them.

The media deserves some love for keeping the story alive for more than a year until the facts overwelhmed the politicians, but the real heroes were scientists. Much has been written about  Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint, who sounded one of the loudest alarms, but it was a team of environmental scientists at Virginia Tech University, devoting many hours of volunteer labor, who gathered the data needed to prove the fact that Flint’s water was dangerously contaminated. There is a very interesting piece on them in today’s New York Times.

They are a motley crew from a variety of countries. One of them, Joyce Zhu, a doctoral student, inadvertently provided a reminder of how America’s lack of investment in our infrastructure is greasing the skids on our path to second class nation status. The Times quotes Ms. Zhu:

“I grew up in Singapore, where clean water, you take it for granted…”

Remember when America used to be the place where you took outstanding public health for granted? Now it’s Singapore and they pity us.

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More interesting water stuff

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leadThe documents related to the recent water testing, provided by the Vindicator, Warren_Water_Files, contain some interesting insights. For example, of the 30 properties tested, 10 were located in Howland (which uses Warren water); only one property was in the 6th Ward, only one in the 7th Ward, and only one in the central city. Since problems like elevated lead readings are much more likely to be present in older homes, it appears that neighborhoods containing older homes may have been under-sampled.

One city insider also told me that at least 8 of the homes tested belong to Warren City employees (which I am unable to verify), however, there may be good reasons for that. Some of the water tests have to be done very early in the morning before the household has run their water at all, before even flushing a toilet. Not surprisingly, it can be hard to find volunteers for that test, so city employees sometimes have to step up.

Finally, I’d like to make it clear that I am not pointing fingers at, or second guessing, any Water Department employees; especially not the new department director Franco Lucarelli, who has only had his current job for a couple of months at most. I do think that the city fell well short of doing all it could in the current situation, but in my opinion, it is the job of the Mayor to provide leadership that looks beyond the bureaucratic requirements and do the types of things suggested in yesterday’s post.

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That’s not my job

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aMQd1P1_700bSo, Mayor Doug Franklin is “proud” of the city’s lead test results. What about proactively helping homeowners? If the lead risks aren’t in the city’s water or its own water lines, and are actually in the supply lines or solder in home lines, who should test their water? How do they go about doing this? They’re basically admitting that a percentage of the city’s homes are at risk for unsafe amounts of lead and saying that’s not the the city’s problem. We did the bare minimum the law demands. You figure it out for yourself.

I get angry about this because it would be so damn easy to actually help people. All it would take is a database query. The county auditor’s database includes the date homes were built. The city could select only the homes that were built before 1950. It could bulk purchase X number of lead test kits for however many homes are in that group and distribute them at the cheaper price (or free for people under the poverty line) to those homeowners with instructions on how to test. We could train city water employees to be ready to respond to questions or to help with tests. At that point, your role as a public servant could be done. You’ve alerted those who need to replace their supply lines or their plumbing that they need to take action.

This small step would save people from lying awake at night wondering if their children are being poisined. People could then live in, or sell, their homes with confidence. But it could be taken further. The city could aggregate the results and negotiated a bulk rate with a plumbing contractor to have all of the supply lines fixed. We could save people a boatload of money. Maybe we could even set up a payment program with a bank who could contribute a few bucks to subsidize those below the poverty line and write down the costs for their yearly CRA contribution. This would be great for the city as a whole as replacing all the plumbing would exceed the value of many homes in Warren.

But no, we’re just “proud” to do the bare minimum to get in off our plate. It’s not our problem.
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Read this, not that [revised with PDF added]

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Clean-Drinking-WaterCity Council President Jim Graham confidently assured Warren residents that their water is safe from high atop his majestic perch in Council chambers this past Wednesday, and this morning the Tribune echoed that point-of-view on the front page.

I can’t know for sure, but most likely neither were lying. I suspect they just took the word of someone they thought should know the truth and passed it on without asking any (or at least the right) questions.

We’re lucky that Vindicator reporter Ed Runyan did what real reporters do, he did ask the tough questions, and when he got the stalling and stonewalling that one usually gets from the Warren city government, he found other sources. So read this, not that.

If you have any concerns about the safety of your drinking water, or just an interest in the issue, I strongly urge you to skip the Tribune’s coverage and go straight to today’s Vindy article which demonstrates, with facts and data, that in some cases Warren’s water has had lead levels up to four times the allowed level.

[Added 1/31/16: Here is a PDF file the Vindy posted on their site with raw data from their reporting including reports from the Ohio EPA: Warren_Water_Files]

I don’t want to be an alarmist; I live in Warren and I don’t plan on running out to get my water tested tomorrow. Of course I don’t have young children living with me; if I did I might have a greater sense of urgency.

To me the real story here is how the Warren city government’s first rule for every piece of information is to keep it secret; treat it like the formula for Coca-Cola. Their first instinct isn’t to worry about what is best for you, it’s to worry about covering their own behinds.

I urge you to read Runyon’s article and listen to the rationale from those involved in testing and evaluating the importance of the test results. They don’t want to tell you the full truth because it might upset you, and in their view the data isn’t significant.

But what about the public’s right to know? Isn’t it up to you to decide what’s significant to you?

If you lived next door to someone whose water tested unsafe, wouldn’t you want to know? And how would you feel if you found out that the high lead level reading was taken at the home of a Warren Water Department employee? A little angry, perhaps?

Well, take a deep breath and wait for an apology or any kind of plan to deal with the situation from Graham, Enzo or Doug (GED).

 

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