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The Wooden Heads At The Hartford DPW

Helen Ubiņas

October 12, 2008

Everyone loves happy endings.

And, silly me, I thought we were going to get one.

But even after writing about how Hartford was paralyzed by a pervasive "can't do" attitude when it came to getting some trees cut for The Open Hearth's hurting firewood program, I couldn't believe the display of stupidity and arrogance I witnessed last week.

I'd gotten to Keney Park early Monday to meet Greg Best and some of his tree company employees. Best, who read about the wood shortage, had volunteered to help out.

The plan, at least the way everyone who showed up understood it, was that the city Department of Public Works would pull limbs from a woodpile at the park. Best and his crew would cut them and another crew from the shelter would load the pieces onto a truck to be processed at their wood yard.

Great plan, except the city was a no-show.

Best's guys tried to make do, tying rope to their trucks and pulling the limbs from the massive pile. They could have cut twice as much if the city had done its part. But an hour in they'd filled one of the shelter's trucks, so everyone was pretty happy.

Then, on my way out, I spotted John Kehoe, from the DPW.

What happened? I wanted to know.

Hey, he wasn't some "Johnny on the Spot," he said. Things don't spontaneously happen just because someone wants to do something good for the city.

And anyway, the city's short on manpower; they had to man the garbage trucks first. Was I aware that Best could sue the city if he hadn't signed a waiver? Clearly, Kehoe guessed, I'd see his point.

He guessed wrong.

Kehoe and I headed for the woodpile. He made a beeline for Muhammad Ansari, the director of the shelter's wood program.

I never told you I'd be able to pull the logs, Kehoe said. I told you we would try.

God bless Ansari's diplomacy because even though he wasn't at all fuzzy on the details when I spoke to him before Kehoe got there, he conceded that OK, he guessed he must have misunderstood.

And then Kehoe's attention turned to Best's guys, who were still trying to pull the wood out with rope. Who are these guys? Kehoe started in. They're dangerous. I want them out of here.

You realize, I told him through clenched teeth, that they're doing what the city didn't.

But by then, there was nothing left to do but leave and vent about it on my blog.

If anyone wonders why even the simplest things don't get done in this city, why people outside of Hartford aren't compelled to buy into their capital city, this explains it.

But that's not the end of the story. Turns out when the guys from Open Hearth returned the next day to pick up some wood Best's crew had cut and left behind for them, they discovered a city contractor had ground it up.


When I checked in with Ansari later, he was hopeful the city would help next time. Best, while disappointed at the city's reaction, actually wants to volunteer again.

Maybe others will follow their lead and join them, he said.

After this kind of welcome, I doubt it.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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