External candidates need not apply

Remember when the City of Worcester used to do nationwide searches?

It seemed like the city’s soundtrack in those days of yore (or, at least, 1996) was Lisa Stansfield belting “Been around the world and I, I, I, I can’t find my baby…oh, wait, he’s been in the office down the hall this whole time!”

So it was pleasant to find that the city administration will save us countless dollars — not to mention meetings’ worth of nail-biting suspense — by appointing Paul Moosey as the commissioner of DPW&P when Bob Moylan retires.

Who can forget those tense four months in 2004 when we thought the city might actually shell out dollars for a quarter-page ad in a trade journal when the perfect — nay, the only — candidate for city manager was already right here?

Thank goodness we didn’t have to go through the stress that comes with rounds of interviewing candidates with experience managing cities, or the disappointment that comes with saying goodbye to eminently qualified candidates who are missing the most important qualification of them all…membership in the club.

You see, Worcester is so different from every other municipality that it is nearly impossible to function here unless you have at least twenty years of experience in Worcester.

Imagine having to explain to an outsider that a sewer line that regularly overflows into a lake isn’t — as they would suspect — a problem that needs to be fixed immediately.  In Worcester, it’s honored with the awe that most reserve for Old Faithful.

That same outsider might think that when Mayor Petty talks about “residency requirements” [$], he would like those who work for the city to live in the city.  Indeed, non-Worcesterites lack the sophistication to decipher a statement like: “It bothers me that people don’t live here. We should make some changes.”

If you read that and felt it meant that (1) the Mayor is bothered that people don’t live here, and (2) we should make some changes, you are obviously not from Worcester.

What that really meant is that (1) it’s an election year, (2) the mayor has decided that this is his issue, and (3) he will talk about this issue without doing anything about a non-Worcester-resident seeking a promotion.

It also means that he will mention it next year around June as if it had never been thought of before, with a similar level of righteous indignation, sparking debate online and on the radio, and ignoring the rest of us who have actually done the research and determined that it just doesn’t make any sense [1, 2, 3].

I bear no ill will towards Mr. Moosey.

On the contrary, he’s inheriting a formidable challenge.  When Bob Moylan retires, not only is Worcester losing half the good hair in city government, but someone who left a huge mark — in both policy and sartorial standards — as well.

Here are some of the issues I’d like to see a new DPW&P commissioner take on:

Build on the success of our recycling program.  Twenty years ago, Worcester’s pay-as-you-throw program was revolutionary.  The latest potential innovation has been Commissioner Moylan’s proposal that people put their recycling in clear plastic bags.  While that might help our recycling rate in single percentage points, we need to look at other ways to reduce the amount of waste we burn at Wheelabrator.  I’d like the new commissioner to look into a pilot curbside compost program and encourage a compost-to-electricity facility in Worcester.

Poop flows downhill.  Our complaints about the EPA would be slightly more logical if we didn’t continually have sewage overflows into Lake Quinsigamond.  Rather than continuing fights we will not win, we need to talk realistically with the EPA about what we can do in making the Blackstone River fishable and swimable.

Poop also flows underground.  We’re approaching major crises in our aging water/sewer system.  I don’t think Worcester’s alone; there are a lot of other communities experiencing the same problem.  But we can only go so many years with the occasional mention in hushed tones about miles of sewer lines and millions of dollars in costs.  It’s going to take vision and leadership to replace the infrastructure we all rely on.

Traffic engineering.  Front Street is atrocious.  There are numerous streets that could do with a lead green signal for left turns.  There are crosswalks all around the city that need a paint job.  Lake Avenue North has had “temporary” lights for years with no end in sight.  We’ve still got miles of private roads.  I don’t envy anyone that workload.

Aquatics.  The city seems disinclined to make capital investments in pools, despite the wishes of numerous residents.  I hate to bring up the Big P, but Providence has four pools and eleven spray parks.  The minute we stop pining for things that can’t be changed (the presence of a river) and focus on true quality-of-life issues, we’ll no longer have an inferiority complex vis–à–vis our neighbor to the south.

Readers, what else do you hope for in a new DPW commissioner? 

And please share what’s more traumatic: confessing that you agreed with Juan Gomez at least twice in 2004, or trying to emulate Lisa Stansfield’s spit curls in 1989:

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