Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Putting The Public Back In Public Works

Help Wanted: Nassau County Commissioner Of Public Works

Nassau County is looking for a new Commissioner for the Department of Public Works (DPW). So says an ad in Sunday's Newsday.

Now I'm not an engineer -- I don't even play one on TV -- but this blogger might just submit his resume to the County Executive for this coveted position. Call it my shot at redemption.

True, I have no expertise in road, bridge or sewer construction, or the maintenance and repair thereof. Then again, looking at the state of repair of Nassau's roadways, bridges and storm sewers, it would seem that no such experience is necessary. Surely, ANYTHING this blogger can do, short of pulling a Michael Brown, would be an improvement!

Sewage treatment and disposal is not really my forte, either. Here too, if news out of Cedar Creek is accurate, the outgoing Commish of DPW didn't really have a handle on these aspects of the job, let alone an eye on day-to-day operations.

Of course, there's so much more to the job of Commissioner than a mere degree or field experience can yield. First, you have to be capable of managing and administering, demonstrating the capacity not only for oversight and supervision, but for putting the right people in the right places -- both in the office and out in the field -- to get the job done correctly. That I can do.

Next, you actually need to be on the job -- more than merely 9 to 5. Your availability is literally 24/7, and you are "on call" to show evidence of your prowess and proficiency, exhibiting that same coolness and presence of mind at the scene of that 3 AM water main break as you do at the routine morning briefing. Okay, that's me all over.

You are in control, yet not overbearing. In charge, yet willing to listen to the advice of others. The buck stops at your desk, and you earn that paycheck every day in service to the taxpayers of Nassau County. So far, it seems like a natural for this blogger. When do I start?

All right. So I'm being a bit presumptuous. Certainly, there are those on the patronage ladder who must be considered before us peons who reply to ads in Newsday. [And why was this blogger looking in the job postings, anyway? Please don't tell my present employer. You know what they say about payback!]

Then, assuming the appointment of a Commissioner requires consent of the County Legislature, well, having offended almost every member of that illustrious body (did I mention that Roger Corbin is one of my favorite people? Hi Roger. I was only kidding when I called you a puppet of the GOP Machine. No, really.), I suppose the operative word here is "screwed."

What about passing muster before the media? A man of many convictions -- well, at least one -- with no related experience to speak of. A public works neophyte who talks a good blog and can rant with the best of them, but where are the qualifications for the job? Okay. Human frailties and my own record of deconstruction aside, you'd be surprised how far half a brain, an enormous heart, and a relentless appetite for serving the public good can take you. [As for transparency, I'd invite the press to stick by my side as I perform my duties, day in and day out. If only they can keep up with me...]

Give me the latitude to assemble the best professional staff -- political considerations aside -- and to captain a ship and crew seaworthy through squall and gale, and this quick-study will sail the DPW through the darkest night and most treacherous storm. [And speaking of that storm, the storm sewers and catch basins, forever clogged with sand, tree limbs, and styrofoam cups from McDonalds, will flow freely once again!]

Usher in a new era, not only at the County, or DPW, for that matter, but on all levels of government, where innovation and creative decision-making is the norm. Without appearing radical or "left-wing," with all the talk of economic redevelopment and the establishment of the County's first Empire Zone, now is the time for Nassau's New Deal -- a modern-day reinvention of the positive attributes of FDR's Works Projects Administration (WPA), creating jobs for our young workforce and an infrastructure for the 21st Century.

In an enlightened community, a community on the move and poised for growth, we need more than an "Adopt-A-Sump" program to ensure that our waterways are clean, and we must pay more than the lip service of "Under Construction" (if only it were so) at the County's Department of Housing, the agency charged with "homeless intervention," and at the Department of Real Estate Planning & Development, those who would seemingly be called upon to do battle on the affordable housing front. [There I go, being critical again. Damn, I'll never get that job! Heck, maybe we need critics, not only shouting from the outside, rattling those walls, but inside the glass house as well.]

There is still another quality that a Commissioner must possess. It is, perhaps, foremost in consideration, particularly in the public arena. That is, always keeping in mind the people you have been appointed to serve.

If they want a traffic signal on a major thoroughfare, where speeding cars threaten motorists and pedestrians alike, don't spend $100,000 to commission a study, only to tell residents that no traffic control device is warranted. As long as safety and prudence permit, give them a traffic light.

If a County roadway is crumbling, its drainage nonexistent -- a barely passable biway posing a danger to life and limb -- don't take a decade (if not more) to plan, design, and scope out its reconstruction. Get to it. Listen to the community. Do not wait until we've reached the point where it is necessary to call in the Army Corps of Engineers.

And for goodness sake, coordinate services with other County agencies, and with those of the townships and localities, so we can have a comprehensive yet simplified plan of action for everything from synchronizing traffic signals to cleaning up Cedar Creek to shoring up Thixton Creek. Let's put an end to the "public be damned" mentality of our government!

All things considered, I may not have the expertise, background, or experience that one looks for in a Commissioner of Public Works (although, I can state with absolute certainty that this blogger is at least as qualified as any sitting Sanitation Commissioner in any of those Town Sanitary Districts. Maybe I could get the Richners to back my bid.)

I don't have a daughter or brother or sister-in-law in government, so the nepotism route does nothing for me. I'm just a poor blogger -- an observer of government and an advocate of community -- trying to get back in the saddle and do some good for my neighbors. Gee, that should count for something, shouldn't it?

Okay, so in all likelihood, someone other than this blogger will be the next Commissioner of Nassau County's Department of Public Works. Odds are that "someone" has already been chosen, the Newsday ad simply covering the bases. Godspeed to him -- or her. Please keep my resume on file for future reference, however, should an appropriate opportunity avail itself. If not DPW, then maybe something in communications, public relations, or that favorite stomping ground of mine, community affairs.

If not Commissioner, then, perhaps, Deputy Commissioner, Director, Liaison, or Chief Cook & Bottle Washer (ah, finally my years of experience pay off). And if there should be an opening somewhere for a $95,000 per year Executive Assistant/Appointment Secretary, by all means, please keep me in mind!

1 comment:

  1. WAS THAT AN EXCERPT FROM Dr. Kings I Had A Dream? You must be dreaming to think that any one who gets that commissioners job will possess any of those qualifications. It will just be another no show patronage position the tax payers have no idea they are paying for. Can I be your deputy?

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