When good people are forced to do bad things
by Ed Wendell
Mar 27, 2013 | 844 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Of late, we are not seeing eye-to-eye with the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and the Environmental Control Board (ECB).

To be clear, our beef is not with the men and women that collect trash – it is a dangerous job, a physically demanding job performed under a wide variety of difficult conditions; they have our respect. Instead, our beef is with the agents of DSNY who write tickets and the agency that

upholds these fines.

Some of those fines, we believe, are designed to be unfair and do little to improve cleanliness in this city. In fact, we believe they encourage illegal dumping and improper disposal.

Here is one example: Back in early October we received a call from an elderly resident who was upset because someone had dumped a mattress at the back of her driveway. It was a shame; she had no way of removing it herself.

So we called 311 and then contacted DSNY’s Community Affairs Bureau directly and alerted them of the situation. “We are willing to go over there and pull the mattress to the curb,” we wrote to them, but we asked that they give a head’s up to their enforcement agents so that she wouldn’t get ticketed for it not being wrapped.

Seems like a reasonable request, no? Apparently not. “(I)t has to be wrapped in plastic. If it’s not wrapped, then we won’t pick it up and she could get a ticket,” came the reply. We questioned this, asking why this sweet little lady needed to be victimized twice. Our appeal fell on deaf ears.

Now, we were more than willing to carry the mattress 75 feet to the curb. Out of curiosity, what would happen if we carried it an extra 20 feet and dropped it in the middle of the street? Or what if we carried it to the nearest street corner and dumped it there? At that point, we were told, it would be taken as a “street condition” and the city would respond in three to seven days.

Do you see what happened there? A stubborn refusal to do the right thing threatens to punish good people, and it also pushes them to consider illegal alternatives.

There’s an old Latin motto: “Leges sine moribus vanae.” It means “Laws without morals are useless.” When a city agency is so impaled to a law that it victimizes an elderly woman (who was already

a victim) and makes illegally dumping garbage a viable alternative, then that city agency is the embodiment of that motto.

In the end, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association went over, wrapped the mattress in plastic, and carried it to the curb. Despite the best efforts of DSNY, we remained the good guys.

We had previously complained about improper disposal in Woodhaven, once even publishing a picture in this newspaper of a man engaged in the act of improper disposal. Surprisingly, we were told by DSNY that photographic evidence was not sufficient, that an agent actually needed to witness the act.

We received a ticket earlier this year and the judge from ECB upheld the penalty saying that our defense was “not credible” – that the garbage placed in front of our property is “presumed to have emanated from that property unless credible evidence to the contrary is shown.”

To review:

(a) A ticket cannot be issued against someone who is caught red-handed on film engaging in an act of improper disposal. An agent has to witness the offense.

(b) However, a homeowner is presumed guilty even though the agent did not witness the act. The burden of proving who improperly disposed the garbage falls on the homeowner.

The ticket in question was written at 2:45 a.m. The garbage was whisked away before we woke up. We never had an opportunity to see this garbage. We feel that residents are at the mercy of DSNY agents

looking to write tickets in the middle of the night – taking advantage of a policy that does little to resolve the situation of improper disposal.

Have a similar story? Email us at info@woodhaven-nyc.org or call us at 718-296-3735. We’d love to hear your story.

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