Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Situation Normal, All "Fowled" Up

A Birdseye View Of Government Inefficiency

At The Community Alliance, we were blogging about government waste, corruption, patronage, duplication of services, and plain old inefficiency, long before there was a Commission on Local Government Competitiveness & Efficiency.

We thought we had seen, and reported on, most everything, from the steakhouse escapades of the Sanitary Commissioners to the excesses at the firehouse.

Well, we didn't quite have the whole story. Yes, there was more, and now it can be told.

If you think you have it bad, drowning in property taxes, caught in the headlights of government whose modus operandi can only be characterized as Blaissez-faire, consider the poor swans of Hall's Pond Park.

Paula and Michael Uhl, activists and advocates in their own right, tell their story to that chronicler of community, Seth Bykofsky.

We are pleased to share this swan song with you. . .
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When Swans Get Goosed
A Tale of Too Much Government, Too Little Action

As told to Seth D. Bykofsky

It’s enough to ruffle anyone’s feathers. No day at the pond for one family, and a travail through the thorny bramble of all too many layers of bureaucratic buffoonery for two good deed doers who championed the cause of five beautiful swans that had lost their way.

This is the story of government run afoul. The seemingly simple rescue of wayward swans that, but for the doggedness of their guardian angels, could have ended tragically. This is the story of how two citizens, connecting the dots between town, county and state, heralded the return of a swan family to their summer domicile at, of all places, Hall’s Pond Park in West Hempstead.

Paula Uhl walks every morning down to the pond. On this particular summer day at around 7:15 AM, she saw 2 adult swans, each approximately 4 feet tall, walking northbound smack dab in the middle of Nassau Boulevard, their 3 signets following closely behind. It was a sight to behold.

Two motorists came to Paula’s aid, attempting to corral the birds away from rush hour traffic. Cell phone in hand, Paula called Nassau’s finest, who swiftly dispatched two officers in a County cruiser. The officers arrived 10 minutes later, by which time Paula and her adopted swan clan had walked half a mile or so to the Echo Park pool complex, a Town of Hempstead facility.

Siren blaring, lights flashing, the police managed only to panic and scatter the frightened birds, all to Paula’s dismay. Waving off the barrage of sight and sound – that “right to remain silent” a most welcome relief -- Paula asked the officers to help her contain the animals within the partially fenced in deck of the pool. Paula herded, while the officers called the County’s Animal Control unit. Paula requested the officers to remain with the birds until the proper authorities arrived. They refused, citing the possibility of something “more important” coming up. No doubt, a flock of irate sheep protesting in front of the Courtesy Hotel!

Paula, concerned that the swan family was thirsty, and seeing that one of the signets was injured and bleeding, asked the Supervisor at the Echo Park pool for some water. He refused assistance. So much for the “Summer of Love” at the Town of Hempstead.

A few Echo Park employees did try to help, but were told it was against the Town rules. [The Town has rules?] Paula ran home for a bowl of water.

Once home, an exasperated Paula, already late for work, asked her husband, Michael, to mind the swans.

Michael Uhl headed off to Echo Park and kept a watchful eye on the swans. He called Animal Control for an ETA, only to be told that the County doesn’t handle swans. They suggested he call the Town’s Bay Constable for waterfowl.

A flurry of telephone calls to the Town of Hempstead, and Michael established that the Bay Constable would arrive from his Point Lookout HQ sometime between 1 PM and 3 PM. Michael asked the Pool Supervisor to help make sure the pool’s gate stayed closed so the swans would not wander off. Tightly tucked in his box, and more concerned about that evening’s Elvis impersonators show than the plight of the flightless swans, the Supervisor remained unyielding. Why, he could not even spare one hardly overworked Town employee to do the job Michael and Paula’s 11-year-old daughter, Sophia, was doing while Michael tried to reason with the King of Echo Park.

The Bay Constable arrived at about 1:15 PM, perfunctorily capturing the swan family, looking to take the birds down to the bay at Point Lookout. Michael implored the Constable to return the swans to their chosen summer habitat – Hall’s Pond. It was to no avail. The Town knows best, after all!

Alas, a compromise. [Let no one say the Town is not accommodating.] The birds would be released into Hempstead Lake. The Constable took off, swans in tow, Michael Uhl in pursuit.

Once at Hempstead Lake, yet another obstacle to the swans safe egress. “We can’t let the birds go in a State Park,” honked the Constable, muttering something about policy and protocol. A Town Constable retrieving wandering waterfowl from a County thoroughfare and releasing them in a State park? Unheard of!

No, the swans would have to go to the bay – barring intervention by a higher authority (say, Al D’Amato). The Constable swooped up swans and headed for Point Lookout. Michael Uhl follows.

Just then, Michael sees a sign – by way of bumper sticker affixed to the Town Constable’s vehicle – Supervisor Kate Murray’s HELPLINE.

Surely, the cuddler of lost kittens and savior of homeless dogs would have a place in her heart for our beleaguered swan family. “Kate Murray’s Helpline. How may we help you?” Name, number taken. Problem noted. Michael is still waiting for a call back. Watch the mail for a Murraygram on the care and handling of swans.

Approaching 4 PM, Michael engaged the Bay Constable in talk of nature and nurture – reason, and the apparent fact that quitting time was near for the man more beholden to Town than to bay, the impasse was resolved, and the birds were returned to Hall’s Pond. The swans were released at 4:15 PM, and, as the sun settled over West Hempstead, this swan song, thanks to the compassion and persistence of Paula and Michael Uhl, had a happy ending.

Our swans survived their ordeal, and a tumult that fashioned every imaginable roadblock short of the creation of a Special Swan District. And we wonder, when did it all become so complicated, so cumbersome? Pity the poor swans, who innocently happened into the clutches of the inefficiency of too much government. Pity the governed, who must pay the price for the ineptitude of government’s excesses.
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Paula and Michael Uhl reside in West Hempstead, as does the writer, and, at least for now, a swan family of five. Mr. Uhl is a candidate for Nassau County Legislature, 8th Legislative District.

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