Talking trash: Norwalk woman vows political action over garbage snafu

Garbage and trash cover a sidewalk near Norwalk Hospital Thursday night. Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) said communications with residents about holiday garbage pick-ups could have been better. He hopes the trash will be picked up Friday.

NORWALK, Conn. – With a stench “like a decomposed corpse” wafting through her Norwalk Hospital neighborhood Thursday, a political neophyte promised political activism – she’s going to campaign to keep Common Council members who voted to outsource Norwalk’s garbage pickup from being re-elected.

Zaida Brown, a 20-year resident of Woodbury Avenue, was not satisfied by the response from city officials to the complaints that flooded the City Hall customer service line in 90-degree heat Thursday about the garbage sitting out since Monday. That was due to a mix-up stemming from changed routes when City Carting took over the city’s garbage pickup.

“Everyone that is running, everyone that voted to outsource the garbage pick-ups, they’re going to be targeted come Election Day,” Brown said. She will do that with “flyers, the Internet, YouTube,” she said.

Brown said she was aware of the change to City Carting, which is why she put Monday’s garbage out Tuesday, the same as always. She wasn’t sure what would happen and wanted to make sure she didn’t miss the pickup.

Her neighbors put their’s out, too. But the pick-up was scheduled for Saturday.

“They’re changing our date,” she said. “The pickup date used to be the following day. Two weeks in the summer without trash collection. That is unacceptable in my book.”

Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said he was chagrined that this happened in his district, as he was against outsourcing, one of the reasons he ran in the first place, he said.

He was impressed by Brown.

“She was very vocal when I went to her house,” he said. “She had been Googling. She had a list of council members that voted for the garbage contract. She said, ‘I am going to get rid of them.’ … I will not forget the conversation that I had with this constituent.”

Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), chairman of the Public Works Committee, said there was an obvious flaw in the communications from the city to the residents about when trash would be picked up.

“The issue is not who is picking up the trash, it was how it was communicated, so this has zero to do with outsourcing,” he said in an email. “If people didn’t get the message, that is our fault. Flyers were distributed to every house in the 4th Taxing District when the cut-over was done.”

The holiday trash pickup schedule was prominently displayed on the city’s website. The Hour newspaper reported it did not get an email announcing the trash schedule and thus did not publish it in the paper.

City workers could do two days of trash pickup in one day because of their “light work load,” McCarthy said. It’s not the first time this year that Monday trash pick-up has been delayed until Saturday due to a holiday but it is the first time the weather was hot, he said.

In retrospect, changing the pick-up from Monday to the following Saturday might not have been a good idea, he said.

“Part of me thinks (the Thursday outcry) is communication and part thinks it is too long of a time period,” he said in an email. “I think this one real issue got buried in all the rhetoric when we discussed it. I’m wondering if the Saturday before isn’t a better idea.”

Watts said about 100 people called City Hall. A dozen people called him. He happened to be in City Hall 0n Thursday afternoon, and said Mayor Richard Moccia got right on it when he heard of the problem. He was “pretty tough” in a phone call to Department of Public Works officials, Watts said.

“He was very firm,” he said. “I’m not going to repeat what he said but he was very firm on his expectations. … I’ve never seen him more upset than what happened today. I’ve seen him upset, but never that upset.”

McCarthy said it will be taken care of.

“The garbage will be collected tomorrow and we will work on the communications, which were definitely flawed,” he said in an email.

Watts said he spent “the better part of the day” on the phone with unhappy constituents who said no one had told them about the change in their garbage pickup.

“I took some angry calls today,” he said. “I’ve gotten some angry calls on stuff but today people were really really ticked off.”

He said outsourcing was a bad idea from the start.

“I had always believed that we have a great system and there was no reason to change it,” he said. “I believe that you get what you pay for. We’re not getting the same quality of service that we’re accustomed to.”

That goes beyond the mix-up in the Norwalk Hospital area. Trash that falls out of the can in front of his house gets left there, he said.

“The guys in (Local) 2405 used to make sure everything got picked up,” he said. “I’m hearing from all over the city that it’s not the same.”

Brown called every council person, she said. “The only one didn’t call back was Fred Bondi,” she said.

She had two complaints. Getting a phone number for Michelle Maggio (R-District C) was difficult, but the conversation was good, she said.

McCarthy went to Woodbury Avenue to talk to her.

“I found Mr. McCarthy to be a little condescending,” she said. “It’s not not true, there were no fliers. Why didn’t they own up to it and say they screwed up? I was a little upset. He tried to blame the residents.”

McCarthy said he could live with that.

“Ms. Brown … is more intent on waging a campaign against outsourcing than having the issue addressed, which makes me think it is not about the garbage, nor a solution, it is about making someone else’s political point,” he said in an email. “If she felt me stopping her from saying Norwalk was like a Third World Nation was condescending, I think I am OK with that. In any circumstance, having your trash at the curb for three days does not in any way equate to the suffering of people in the Third World.”

Watts said the smell in the neighborhood was horrendous.

“I’m hoping this is a ‘come to Jesus’ moment,” he said, regarding outsourcing. “… There were flies. The smell was almost unbearable with all the trash.”

Brown said she can’t walk to work at Norwalk Hospital with all the trash on the sidewalk. Racoons and rats were likely to get into the rotting garbage and strew it all over the street, she said.

“My windows are closed,” she said. “I don’t dare turn the air conditioner on. It’s like a decomposed corpse out there. It’s ridiculous.”

Correction made, July 1


21 responses to “Talking trash: Norwalk woman vows political action over garbage snafu”

  1. M. Murray

    North Taylor area has also had garbage out since Monday. Waiting an extra 5 days for pickup due to a holiday is unacceptable. City Carting was not supposed provide the same service as before. They should be required to do pickup the day after a holiday as in the past.

  2. Tim T

    This is just the beginning…Wait and see..Yet another of Moccia’s brainstorms..

  3. NorwalkLifer

    @NancyonNorwalk, have the city carting contracts actually saved the city money?

  4. Thomas Gallant

    So people do not realize there is a transfer station where they can TAKE their trash? What about the residents in norwalk that don’t even have trash pickup? How do you think they manage?

  5. Al Raymond

    I live in the Springhill/Hospital area & there were NO flyers sent out telling us that they would not be picking up GARBAGE for two weeks.I did know about it cause the Mayor did say something about it on line last week I think it was facebook. That still doesn`t make it okay not to pick up the garbage for two weeks. It is bad in our neighborhood the smell the rats not only that it looks really bad. Mr Moccia did say that they would be picking up on SATURDAY but I did see the trucks picking up today (Firday) but there lays another problem they will then have to come out Saturday as well for those that did get the message o ya but wait then they will be back on MOMDAY to pick up more garbage.So I`ll tell you what I think I`am not a professional here but just a thought, just push everyone back one day & be done with it. Anyway I hope the garbage gets pick up & the smell goes away.

  6. David McCarthy

    It’s unfortunate people put their trash out based on erroneous assumptions, which lead to this issue, and I’m sorry there was this delay, but we reacted as soon as the mayor and I were informed, as Mr. Watts said. As I said, both the communication and the process can be better. This had zero to do with City Carting. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to spin this politically.

    I will reframe the issue this way: If we hadn’t outsourced, but had merely changed the holiday pick up schedule to the Saturday following, would anything here have been different? No. It still would have resulted in the same thing.

    This has everything to do with Communication. Looking to solve that problem, I already have an idea, and I look forward to other’s opinions and reaching a consensus based solution.

    Let’s fix the problem, not the blame, and leave the rhetoric out of it.

    Savings are documented by Mr. Barron at over a million dollars per year for a total of $17M over ten years. Email me and I will be happy to provide the back up.

  7. M. Murray

    The solution is pretty simple. If Monday is a holiday, schedule the pick-up for Tuesday as past practice has always been. It is up to City Carting to maintain the schedule that has been in place for years.

  8. LWitherspoon

    If Mr. Watts thinks it’s better that the taxpayers of Norwalk pay an extra $1+ million per year to Union garbage collectors, where does he propose to get that money? Should we cut twelve teachers, twelve police officers, or raise taxes by that amount?
    I would much rather see the City play hardball with City Carting and work out a resolution so that nobody has to wait two weeks for pickup when there is a holiday. That way we can enjoy the savings along with service that’s a close approximation of what was in place before.

  9. Bruce Kimmel

    I talked to Ms. Brown yesterday afternoon and we both seem to believe that the schedule was the true source of the problem. I have since learned that communication could have been much better. In my opinion, the fault does not rest with City Carting. Ms. Brown asked me a lot of questions about outsourcing, which I answered:
    The DPW workers who used to do the pickup averaged a 5.2 hour workday, thus they could occasionally do two routes on a single day. However, the short day was costing the city a bundle of money.
    When we outsourced, those workers were transferred to the city’s highway division; they did not lose their jobs, but they did receive a small pay cut and are now working a full shift.
    We are saving money from the outsourcing; I believe there are now 14 fewer positions in DPW as a result, and the city is no longer responsible for the sizable workman’s compensation costs that are associated with solid waste collection.
    The contract with City Carting should save the city about $10 million in garbage pickup and $7 million in recycling over the next ten years. In light of these savings, I could not in good conscience vote against outsourcing.
    This is clearly a scheduling and communication issue that needs to be addressed one way or the other. Having to wait almost two weeks makes little sense. I am certain that the Mayor, members of the Council and DPW staff will make sure it does not happen again.

  10. EastNorwalkChick

    From what I gather when we signed the contract to outsource to City Carting nothing would change, so if in the past if there was a Monday holiday, City Carting should have picked up the garbage on a Tuesday, just like the DPW used to. So saying it was a communication and scheduling snafu is a bunch of malarkey. Didn’t you all think of this when you signed the contract with them, it’s not like we have never had a Monday holiday before? Good grief.

  11. NorwalkVoter

    While we are talking about communication, let me be on record that City Carting, or whomever picks up our recycling, often leaves paper or plastic on the property after pick-up. They also leave bins in the parking areas and throw them around which leads to damaged bins. Not a great operation. This is my communication to the powers that be.

  12. MPW995

    @Thomas Gallant – Yes there is a transfer station but for residents of the majority of the city, garbage collection is a service we pay for through taxes. Residents in un-sewered areas of the city have a choice of either taking it themselves or contracting with private company.

    In District A, it is my responsibility to get the garbage and recycling to the curb. It is the city of Norwalk’s responsibility to get it from the curb to the landfill/incinerator/recycling center. How the accomplish that, either through Local 2405, City Carting or a joint effort up to the DPW Director (who doesn’t even live here and pay taxes) but it needs to be done completely and on time.

    I purchased a new garbage can in weeks before the takeover. City Carting managed to break off and loose the lid on it within 3 pickups. Now I have dogs, squirrels and raccoons raiding my can all the time. “Customer Service” could have cared less.

    If this is a “Scheduling and Communication” issue as our council members say, take some of the “Saved” money and invest in a website that is both easily navigated and updated daily. I should not have to click a link just to click on another just to read the information. We won’t even get into the yard waste collection program. Why don’t they just post on the website that yard waste will be collected on the second Tuesday of every week. Folks this website is so 1990’s

    I still think this was a bad deal for the taxpayers of the once great city of Norwalk.

  13. Bryan Meek

    That explains the huge line last week at the dump. Looks like a lot of people decided to help themselves while government works out the kinks of trying to be more efficient for us.

  14. M. Murray

    There needs to be some reassurances that savings are not offset by a reduction in services or scheduling. It is up to City Carting to maintain the previous schedule.

  15. David

    Heck yeah the Mayor was upset – something like this happens the summer before an election? It doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to mend fences with those affected.

    I’m not really sure what the point of getting angry with DPW is, they’re only going to have to do the same with City Carting. The question is whether City Carting reneged on an agreement to pick up garbage the Tuesday after a long weekend, or not. That should be clearly stated in the Service Level Agreement with the City.

    If not, what is the DPW going to do? They can ask City Carting to do them a favor, or pay extra for the service. I’d be interested to know what actually happened.

  16. 0ldtimer

    Moccia can get away with hollering at people at the DPW, even when garbage collection is not their problem. He probably figures he has already lost all the voters at DPW. He is just now coming to grips with how little control he has over City Carting and how stupid it would be to start hollering at the bosses at that company.

  17. rburnett

    Welcome to Norwalk folks!! One SNAFU after another. We are being hoodwinked by smooth-talking politicians. And since when are Watts and Moccia such buddies? Hmmmm must be something up there…just sayin

  18. dc2

    customer service = oxymoron in Norwalk. Bravo to Ms. brown for her persistence in getting responses and some action taken.
    Very often it is a relatively minor issue that draws the civic interest of a resident, but ultimately turns into a lifetime of government participation. I hope Ms. Brown ontinues in her quest to demand outstanding services and improved processes from our city, but most of all honestly, integrity and transparency.

  19. M. Murray

    Speaking of transparency, has anyone come up with the Democratic Party oath of loyalty candidates were asked to sign??

  20. Linda

    I am always reading about all the $ being saved. So how come on top of all the $ saved on garbage the city has all but ended picking up yard waste. For all of 2013 there are only 4 pick ups. Two in the spring and two in late fall. The city did not even do the spring pick ups correctly. On my street they showed up two days early – and did not come on the scheduled day. I heard the truck down the street so I ran out and put my bags out on the wrong day. Another neighbor called the city so a week later they showed up in a big dump truck – flung his bags over the top – spilling the contents out into the street. But the best part was they looked right at his next door neighbors bags – did not pick those up- and got in the truck and drove away! And please do not tell me to bring the bags myself to the yard waste site – for all the property taxes charged in Norwalk the city owes me this service!

  21. Ergo

    My household pays for City Carting (no public trash pickup where we live in Norwalk) and City Carting’s policy has always been to pick up the trash the day AFTER a holiday, and therefore bumping everyone forward a day. For example, last week our trash day was Tuesday, and it was picked up Wednesday. I wonder why they wouldn’t do the same for the entire town? Or why the town wouldn’t ask City Carting what their policy was (which makes the most sense to me).

    However, if this is your biggest complaint about Norwalk, one week stuck with stinky trash, consider yourself lucky. It’s all about perspective.

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