One man’s trash is another man’s column

Published 11:42 am Saturday, April 19, 2014

I’ve been at this long enough now that I’m rarely surprised by our reader’s reactions to the news stories we publish. But I’ll be honest; some of the reactions to our recent report detailing the monitoring of Southampton County trash facilities (“Residency, contents not regularly checked at county garbage sites,” April 13) caught me a little off guard.

photoTo catch those of you up who did not read the story, four of our staff members, including yours truly, visited eight of the county’s 16 trash collection sites to see if the attendants checked for our residency status or if we were dumping anything illegal. We used three different vehicles, one registered in the county, one in Suffolk and one in North Carolina. The county vehicle (mine) visited one site, the Suffolk vehicle visited five and the North Carolina vehicle two. The North Carolina vehicle has a powder-blue UNC plate on the front and a North Carolina license plate on the back. It also stalled getting over the speed hump. Not exactly a stealth operation.

When I pulled into one of the facilities, I looked right into the window of the attendant’s building. He was completely engrossed in the morning news broadcast on television (It was “The Today Show” on NBC, for the record, even though the attached photo doesn’t make it easy to see) and never even knew I was there. The other seven site visits yielded similarly unproductive results, with both the Suffolk and North Carolina vehicles actually being waved into a facility by an attendant on one occasion each, and never had the contents of their deposits checked or their residency established. We weren’t trying to be sneaky, we were just generally interested to find out if county taxpayers were getting their money’s worth for the $300,000 annually spent on the attendants’ salaries and the costs associated with maintaining monitored facilities.

According to County Administrator Mike Johnson, the county has saved more than $5 million since it began monitoring the trash sites in 2006. That’s a tremendous savings. I just wonder how much more Southampton County could save if the trash monitors consistently did their jobs.

As most of you who have read this column for any length of time already know, I rarely if ever address comments made by some of our online readers. Yet there were such a variety of opinions regarding this particular story that I’ve decided to share some of them with you this week and give my own response to them. Each comment will identify the author by their online user name. Ready? Here we go.

Grandma: “So there was nothing to write about so the “staff” operated a sting to get a story and stir up the citizens.”

Tony Clark: I’m simultaneously amazed and flattered that someone would consider this investigation to have been a “sting.” Makes the time we spent at the dump feel a little more glamorous.

23851: “Those old men/women are just trying to do something to stay active and supplement the little bit of Social Security they recieve. Great Job Tidewater News you’ll probably be the cause of 8 job losses in our booming economy!”

TC: I never really thought of a six-hour shift spent watching daytime television as a way to “stay active.” I also didn’t think the point of my paying county taxes was to supplement someone’s Social Security check or their pension.

mbrya023: “The guy who works at the dump on (redacted) just sits around and shoots people dirty looks. He doesn’t even compress the trash half of the times. I can’t speak for any other site.”

TC: If an attendant is not going to compact the trash, the least they could do is give you a smile and a wave on your way in and out.

ROBERT GREEN: “The trash police will be checking everyone now. Most times they don’t come out of their hut but sometimes they are a pain in the @&%.”

TC: Seems like some consistency is needed here. Attendants should either come out of the hut all the time or don’t come out at all. Likewise, attendants should make the decision to either be a pain in the @&% all of the time or don’t be one at all.

sedleygal: (Quoting the story) “They’re [the attendants] presence along has caused a 50 percent shrinking of the waste stream.”

sedleygal: What’s wrong with this sentence? Maybe you should worry about doing your own job correctly and proofread.

TC: Touché. “Their presence alone” would have made a lot more sense. Apparently, the county is not the only one who should pay attention to what needs to be thrown out.

broman: “I’m exhausted, after reading this article, from all the commas.”

TC: Now you’re just piling on.

johnmstx: “Attendants at refuse collection sites are very aware of all that goes on; every person using the facility as well as every happening at their particular sites.. In short order, they get to know all users and quickly spot an “outsider” Mainly they keep a buildup of illegal dumping to a minimum. The sites are clean, traffic flow is orderly and I have seen on many an occasion, an attendant assist folk that require physical assistance.

To mount such a yellow journal attack on them is way out of line. Maybe the TWN could focus on a real issue; “Why was the Garbage “FEE” initiated as a Fee instead calling it what it is, “A TAX”?”

At least then we could deduct it as a tax on our income tax.

This ridiculous campaign by Mr. Cowles was a complete waste of time and resources and will accomplish nothing but angst and disruption of a functional, smooth running service by conscientious attendants.”

TC: I’ll let Mr. Green’’s response to johnmstx’s comment do the heavy lifting for me.

ROBERT GREEN: “They don’t do crap and you know it. You must have family that work there. They do a good job of watching TV in their little hut. If you drive in with a truck full sometimes they will walk out to make sure your not dumping shingles, That is if it not raining or its not their nap time.”

Tony Clark is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is