A cleaner city may rely on cleaning up attitudes

August 30, 1994|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

The brown-haired girl, about 16, walked down the alley yesterday, seemingly taking no notice of her surroundings. Her bare feet took her past garbage and a dead rat that had become a sumptuous feast for a host of maggots and flies.

Nearby, a pile of open trash bags filled with stinking garbage lay against a wall where the words "No Dumping" had been stenciled.

Charles McMillion knows this Southwest Baltimore neighborhood very well. He's a supervisor in the Western District office of Baltimore's Bureau of Solid Waste Collection.

Angered by the tons of trash littering the city, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recently gave Mr. McMillion and the city's 35 other sanitation supervisors a 60-day deadline to crackdown on violators of the sanitation laws. The mayor has threatened to fire the sanitation supervisors if the city doesn't become cleaner.

Mr. McMillion supports the mayor's edict and has stepped up his enforcement work. While issuing more citations -- which carry $25 fines -- is a step in the right direction, he doesn't want anyone to think that the solution is that simple. He uses this alley off Ramsay Street between Payson and Pulaski streets, to illustrate the difficulty of catching illegal dumpers.

"Take the trash in this alley," Mr. McMillion said yesterday. "There's no name on it. I doubt that it came from the people who live in the house closest to it. The people in the neighborhood know who's doing it, but most of the time they won't tell."

Mr. McMillion has about 20 workers assigned to him. They pick up garbage, trash and larger items people throw away. He issues notices when he catches people who illegally dump garbage and junk.

Dorothy Appleby, of the 2100 block of Wilhelm St., is fed up with the trash in the neighborhood. Seeing Mr. McMillion making notes beside the pile of smelly refuse, she immediately assailed him. "Are you from the city?" she asks.

"I'm disgusted," she says, "I've called Mayor Schmoke. These people wait until after the trash truck has passed to put their garbage out."

Mrs. Appleby, who has lived in the neighborhood 27 years, says she believes the trash problem began about 10 years ago when renters replaced the longtime owners who died or moved away.

"If I could move tomorrow, I would," she said. "I'm tired."

Mr. McMillion assured her the city cares about her problem and can help to solve it. He told her that she could report illegal dumping without having to give her name. He agrees that many neighborhoods have lost the sense of community pride that includes a desire by residents to help each other keep their streets and yards tidy.

Sometimes Mr. McMillion dons a pair of gloves and digs through garbage looking for mail and other telltale evidence that points to the culprit who dumped it. But that kind of detective work doesn't always get results.

Driving his pickup truck from Ramsay Street to Edmondson Avenue, Mr. McMillion begins inspecting an alley and the houses between Arlington and Carrollton streets. He encounters Charles W. Lightfoot, of the 2300 block of Harlem Ave., who was about to cut the grass in the backyard of a house he rents out.

It's the house next door, however, that catches Mr. McMillion's attention, with its mass of weeds and overgrown grass. The holes in the ground indicate rodents have taken over. Mr. Lightfoot, 67, who lives 15 blocks away, says he doesn't know who owns the vacant house.

Mr. McMillion writes the house number down anyway. When he comes back in the afternoon to leave first-notice citations it will be among 11 issued on that block.

It's on the third notice that a fine may be imposed, meaning that it could be one to two weeks after sanitation inspectors see a trash problem before a violator is punished.

The city held a clean-up day on Saturday in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood where Mrs. Appleby lives. City crews alerted residents that they would be picking up trash and sweeping the streets.

Many took advantage of the city's action by cleaning their houses and yards, discarding items for the crews to cart away. But by yesterday morning some of the same yards and alleys were littered with trash and had garbage spilling from bags and cans, Mr. McMillion said.

"It's mainly educating the public. Letting them know their responsibilities," Mr. McMillion said.

"But some of these people need to be pushed. I wish we could sentence some of them to community time and make them work on our trucks," he added.

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