Thursday, June 11, 2009

The fraud of the Mayor's accountability system

Something that is disappointing about the way this City operates is the lack of responsibility and accountability in the way things are done. What this leads to is a healthy dose of skepticism by the citizens which leads to a lack of trust that the government can get things done, and that they are honest about the work they do.

I believe this comes directly from the top. When City workers know that the Mayor and the City Councilors are not honest about the services they provide, it does not provide much motivation for them to do any better.

Unfortunately, I don't need to travel any further than my tiny block of West Springfield Street to show how the Mayor's tracking system doesn't really make anything more accountable, is not honest, and that intelligent people who work for the Mayor don't trust the system or the people that work in it.

Recently on our block some of the granite cobblestones that make up the ramp to our rear alley had come loose. A resident on the street apparently called the City to have the ramp fixed. As I was walking down the street one day I saw a single worker fixing the two foot by two foot hole where the cobblestones were missing. I didn't think anything more about it until I returned home a few hours later and saw the horrible job that had been done. I knew that the patch would not last and took a picture of it:

Sure enough, a couple of days later the cobblestones had fallen apart and no one from the City came back to fix them or check up. So, I thought this was an opportunity to see exactly how the City documents things with their new accounting system they have been touting. The City of Boston has asked me to make all my public records requests through one attorney, Maribeth Cusick, so that the City can keep tabs on all the information I ask for. Menino, Yoon and Flaherty can't take the risk that if I ask some random City employees for some information and they turn it over it might make them look bad. This way they can control the flow of information through one source. Mrs. Cusick is very smart and pleasant and also represents the City Council in their Open Meeting Lawsuits. Late on June 2 (8:53 pm), I sent an email to Mrs. Cusick for a copy of the tracking system report:

A new request: The DPW was out this week fixing the alley on my street of West Springfield Street between West Springfield and Mass Ave.
Can I have all the tracking information for this fine repair? Who requested it fixed, when the request was made, how long it took to respond to the request,
who worked on it, whether anyone inspected it? In other words, I would like to see how the Mayor's new tracking system worked for this repair just down
the street from me. It was done last week.

Here it gets interesting. Instead of just getting me the information I requested, clearly Mrs. Cusick had no confidence in the Department of Public Works and sent a request to them that they inspect the work that the Department had already closed the case on as being resolved. How do I know this? Because the next day as I was returning from a Seniors event at about 2:30 I turned onto West Springfield Street and saw 3 DPW trucks and 6 DPW workers working on the 2 foot by 2 foot hole in the ground!!! I parked my truck and walked down the sidewalk to take a picture. The foreman yelled at me "Hey, you can't take a picture!" I asked why I can't take a picture from a public sidewalk and he said back "We're the FBI". Here is a picture of the 3 trucks and in the background the group of workers:

So, I sent Mrs. Cusick an email updating my FOIA request:


Do I have you to thank for fixing our alley so fast? Please include the tracking numbers for today's fix including whether anyone but me called in to ask them to do it right this time!

Two days later I got the reply from Mrs. Cusick:

Hi Kevin:

Below please find the responsive records for your request concerning the tracking information for the repair to the alley between West Springfield Street and Massachusetts Avenue.


From: Coppola, Janine
Sent: Friday, June 05, 2009 12:49 PM
To: Cusick, Maribeth
Subject: Update to 190 W. Springfield St case...

Maribeth: Here is a screen shot of the 190 W. Springfield St. case Case ID#54599). What it shows is as follows:
5/26 -- Issue called in by Jon Goose; Case created and sent to PWD Sidewalk Repair; Reallocated to PWD Highway Genrl Maint.
5/28 -- Repairs made and case closed as resolved.

Upon contact from M. Cusick re: K. McCrea request for info., PWD asked to go out and inspect site. Repairs made again. Explanation provided by R. Quigg re: traffic degrading prior repairs made.

6/5 -- Case reopened to update on request for inspection; Case note added w/ findings and repairs made; Case closed as resolved (per R. Quigg).

Hope this information is helpful. Thanks, - janine


So, what can we determine from this carousel?

1) City Workers like Mrs. Cusick have no faith in the Mayor's accountability program
2) Just because the City says that a problem has been corrected, clearly it doesn't mean that a problem has been corrected.
3 ) On very short notice at least 3 DPW trucks and 6 DPW workers are available to fix a 2x2 hole in the ground that a single worker had allegedly fixed on his own a week earlier. Are the streets really in such great condition that 6 guys can work on this issue?
4) On 6/5 the case was opened allegedly because of a request of mine, when actually I never requested anything except a copy of the records. The case was closed 11 minutes later. Maybe because the work had actually been done on 6/3?
5) On 6/3 the day that the work was actually done with 6 workers, according to the City records nothing was done.
6) Notice that the City uses the excuse that traffic ruined the repair, when in actuality as you can see from the first photo it was just bad work. Why take responsibility and be honest about something when you can pass the buck. Just like Menino, Yoon and Flaherty. They learn from the best!

This reminds me of the sayings "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics" and GIGO (Garbage in, Garbage Out). Clearly the way this system is set up someone can enter in information that a problem has been corrected when in actuality the situation has not been done to proper standards. This would probably show up in the Mayor's statistics as two properly completed jobs. Further, it clearly isn't important to keep track of the actual dates when anything is being done. With data so inconsistent, none of it can be trusted.

This is a difficult problem to correct. There needs to be better management of the tracking system with established guidelines, there needs to be accountability that jobs are completed properly whether through inspections or other means. I am particularly concerned that six guys and 3 trucks are working on such a tiny job. It is situations like this that I believe the Financial Commission is talking about when they say we need a revised management structure at the DPW.


Ross Levanto said...


Can the city do anything right?

From reading your post, it sounds like you contacted the city to register an issue with the patch job done on your sidewalk, and then the city responded by sending quite a few people to fix it.

What's so wrong with that?

Obviously, I am supporting the Mayor, but short of the city fixing the problem correctly the first time, what else could they have done?



John said...

The tracking system is a joke. I live near a park in East Boston and I've requested no less than 6 times now that a lightbulb be replaced in the park. The case is continuously closed and the light has not been fixed. I keep calling the parks department and each time I have to go through the same information and each time it isn't fixed. I also complained about a fence that was missing a section. They came and welded a piece of metal to the fence, not where the metal was intended to be but in the middle of the pole. I know Eastie isn't the Back Bay but I'm sick of being treated like a red-headed stepchild in this administration.

JTG said...

Real accountability would mean:

*Realtime publicly trackable GPS for all DPW vehicles and its itemized jobs while assigned workers are logged for internal performance audits (callbacks, slow progress, etc.)
*Time-stamped publicly viewable digital photos documenting pre and post conditions, and work execution (including prep and obscured infrastructure, underlayment, etc.)

Of course the first step would be a complete integration of the above within a comprehensive dispatch coordinating system geared toward efficiency and non-redundancy.

Government is subordinate to the people and public servants need to be reminded who their master is.

Residents should be able to pull up an online map with dots showing the location of work to be done with a brief description -- accompanied by a set of moving dots depicting crews on site (with traffic disruptions specifically highlighted).

All the data should be open source, so members of the public can mine it to find out for instance; how much time is devoted to driving, or planting trees, or scraping paint, or power-washing, etc.

Good luck Kevin,

Jason Gordon
Brookline (soon to be Jamaica Plain)

Christopher said...

@ Ross: Reading Mr. McCrea's post, he never reported a problem to the city. There was a bit of sarcasm -- "this fine repair" -- which may have been perceived as "Hm, I bet he has a problem with the repair," plus the asking about the repair in the first place.

All he did, though, was ask for a log of the repair, and he got a new repair thrown in.

Now, perhaps the attorney (correctly) realized that the odds were slim that Mr. McCrea would've asked for the records just for kicks -- that's the most likely explanation (and stuff like that happens all the time in organizations).