Who's In Charge?

by Jim Gerrish


I live on a county road. So when I saw a hazardous situation developing at the corner of Sanford and Melrose, in which a manhole in the street was gradually being uncovered by the movement of traffic past it, I reported it to the Essex County Department of Public Works. The first time I reported it was on May 4th after a car knocked an emergency cone off to the middle of the street. I replaced the cone, but could do nothing to move the plywood covering back over the exposed manhole opening, so I contacted the county via their e-mail reporting system on-line.

Nothing happened and the situation was getting worse because the plywood covering the open manhole was moving further back.

On May 6th I again reported to the Essex County on-line reporting system that the situation was becoming worse and that no one had even stopped to check on it.

Shortly afterwards, I received a phone call from someone at the Essex County Department of Public Works and was told that:

1. I should not have contacted the Essex County DPW.

2. Even though Sanford Street is a county road, the EC DPW had nothing to do with the equipment in the street.

3. The equipment in the street was the property of PSE&G's East Orange department.

4. In the opinion of the person to whom I was speaking, PSE&G was negligent for covering the open manhole with plywood; they should have covered it with a heavy iron plate.

5. I should not report it to the police because they could do nothing; it was the problem of PSE&G to take care of.

6. The person to whom I was speaking stated that he would contact PSE&G and recommend the hole be covered with an iron plate.

7. I should not get involved because that would make me liable if an accident occurred because of the open manhole.

In the meantime, I saw police cars regularly pass the location without stopping to correct it, and apparently no one else had reported it, so nothing was done. By anyone.

On May 11th, at 3:00 AM, my cat woke me up to be let outside. When I opened the door I saw that a vehicle had smashed into the barrier completely opening up the manhole and knocking much of the structure further south down Sanford Street. The dangerous situation had suddenly become much more serious. I could imagine what would happen if a car ran over the hole and a tire dropped down into it. Apparently no one else seemed to be able to foresee this possibility.

Look for yourself. Does the situation shown in the above photo which I took at 3:22 AM Daylight Saving Time look dangerous to you? That's why, before I went picture taking, I called 911 and the East Orange police said they would send a car to check things out.

The police car arrived and the lone police officer tried her best to pile up the debris on top of the plywood as a warning to traffic, but the manhole remained open.

At 4:08 AM DST I went back out to see what had been done. The police car was gone and the debris now looked like this. Do you feel safer knowing that this is the end result of contacting the Essex County DPW, depending on PSE&G to fix the problem, and calling the police to cover an open manhole so no one has a serious accident?

Who is in charge? Could it be Dono Nuthin?

Dono Nuthin, Department of Public Stupidity

05/11/14 5:15 AM DST - Follow-up: The cat called to be let back in at 5:15 AM. When I opened the door, I saw that PSE&G had finally arrived to fix the situation. See below.

The situation is now back to the way it was prior to May 4th. The hole is now covered back up with the same piece of plywood. A third beat up traffic cone has been added to the display. The PSE&G worker said he had not been notified by anyone until earlier this morning, and that the plywood covering was a standard PSE&G covering for open manholes; the iron plate was reserved for larger holes cut into the road. Please note: There is nothing on the display that clearly identifies this as PSE&G apparatus. There is no sign saying "In case of Emergency contact PSE&G at (phone number)." Dono Nuthin is still in charge.

05/17/14 This morning I noticed that someone had slammed into the PSE&G material in the street, leaving it looking like this:

It appears to have been hit by a car driving from north to south, then it seems "someone" got out and piled up the pieces as shown. There was still a piece of the road stand that had been thrown off to the left side of the street in front of my house. Now that I knew it belonged to PSE&G, I called them on their "Emergency" phone number. Right. The Emergency number is exactly the same as their regular number and I had to wait through the list of menu items, which, of course, had nothing for reporting piles of crap left in the street by PSE&G workers. Finally I spoke to a human, who put me on hold several times, and then told me "someone" would be out "soon." I am not impressed by their so-called "emergency" phone handling. As far as I can see, Dono Nuthin is still in charge.

05/18/14 - Still there. Still Nuthin Doin' from PSE&G. Police cars still ride right by it, unconcerned. It will take a major accident to get any action, I'm afraid. If every driver that rides by it would honk his or her horn, that might get someone's attention.

05/20/14 - (Four days after I called PSE&G to report this new development) ... Still there, for those of you who were worried that "someone" with the authority to handle a problem in the city of East Orange would actually do something about this. You still have time to drive by and honk your horn. I've decided that the P.S. in PSE&G which ought to stand for "Public Service" actually stands for "Plain Stupid." The green arrows I drew on the above photo shows that the big pipe thingee is gradually turning from vehicle vibrations and the wind. It's only a matter of time before it blocks traffic trying to turn up Melrose or trying to pass on the right, or a vehicle gives it a real whack and it goes flying. Dono Nuthin says, "Don' worry about dit." Police cars and fire trucks pass it regularly and none of them are worried. I think PSE&G is purposely avoiding coming near it because I might photograph them ignoring it also. I wouldn't mind so much, but the mayor claimed to be “Focused on Service and a Culture of Accountability and Performance” in his state of the city address. Hmmmm.

11:50 PM. Good news. I just saw the East Orange City street sweeping truck actually back up and go around the obstacle without cleaning that side of the street. So I guess that makes it official. Members of our Department of Public Works are also ignoring the problem and going about business as usual.

05/21/14 Sometime late this afternoon the PSE&G "monolith" was replaced in Sanford Street at the Melrose intersection. I did not see who replaced it. I came outside at 6:30 PM and there it was. Note that the broken stand was not fixed and that the whatchamacallit chimney pipe is now leaning against the broken side of the stand. One guess what will happen next. I've taken the liberty to point out the two potholes that appeared on the side of the street since that work began. I'm not fixing blame on who caused them in a relatively newly paved road, but some cars are taking hard "hits" when they get caught in them. Thanks to everyone who honked as they passed by the broken exhibit. I don't know if that raised awareness about the problem, but at least "someone" finally "did something" after five days when it was first reported to the PSE&G "emergency hotline".

Exhibit "A"

Exhibits "B" and "C", knocked four houses south on Sanford St.

05/23/14 If we needed proof that PSE&G is staffed by a lot of damnfools, I offer in evidence Exhibits A, B, and C above. I don't know when the collision happened, but it was easily predictable based on the previous photograph from 5/21/14. I again called the "emergency" number, went through all the stupid menu items until I spoke to a human and once again started to get the "run-around" instead of having it handled like an emergency. I pronounce them all "damnfools" until proven otherwise. I rest my case.

05/23/14 - 5:10 PM DST Some time between the time I called PSE&G and 4:30 PM when I next ventured outside, "someone" had done this make-shift attempt at a "repair." It had to have been some booby from the hatch at PSE&G because no one else would have been able to provide a shiny new chimney and not even bother to remove the old one (Exhibit B) still lying in the street as PSE&G litter (Police, take note! Enforce the anti-litter laws and give them a hefty fine!).

I mentioned that I went outside at 4:30. I inspected the quality of the work and observed that the new chimney contraption was "plumb" or vertical at 90 degrees, more or less. By the time I got back with my camera, the chimney was leaning to the north (compare to the plumb line in green that I drew next to it). Guess which way it is going to fall next time? Notice also that the manhole cover is no longer holding down the plywood as it did before. That means the plywood is free to slide back and forth as it did before. Notice also that there is only one traffic cone, where there were once three. That means whoever "fixed" it picked up the cone from the lawn of 135 Sanford Street where it had been knocked, and just ignored the chimney litter across the street from it. The damnfools at PSE&G must have a strong union if none of them are afraid of losing their jobs over shoddy work or mismanaged supervision.

In taking the 5:05 Photo, I almost stepped into the aforementioned pothole. It's the one furthest to the left in the photo taken on 5/21/14 at 6:30 PM. I tossed a piece of litter (a squashed water bottle) that I picked up near the spot to show you how deep the pothole has become. No wonder cards and trucks are causing such heavy vibrations to the area when they zoom in and out of it at close to 40 MPH. The speed limit is 25 MPH in this residential neighborhood, but no one, including the police, seems to care about speed limits. The police are in charge of enforcing the speed limits, but the Department of Public Works is in charge of filling in potholes. Dono Nuthin is in charge of The Department of Public Stupidity and therefore must be the supervisor for both departments. He's the only one doing a good job at doin' nuthin'. I'm no good at doin' nuthin' because I collected the smashed water bottle and brought it home to my recycling bin.

05/29/14 Early this morning at 8:30 AM, someone from PSE&G came by to inspect the Chimney Thingee. I suspect he had seen this report, because he came over to me and introduced himself, and told me that he would be sending out a truck to repair the Chimney Thingee (I never did learn its name or why it has been needed for more than a month sticking up out of the street at such a busy intersection). He said there was no danger of the Chimney Thingee falling because it was bolted to the plywood, but that he was going to replace the plywood with a special iron manhole cover that had a separate hole for the chimney, etc. Note: He didn't say WHEN this would be happening.

05/29/14 5:15 PM. I went back outside to work in my garden and saw... surprise! Someone else had a close encounter of the usual kind with the PSE&G Chimney Thingee. Apparently those bolts aren't working as well at holding the Chimney Thingee upright as the PSE&G Inspector thought they would. You can see a distinctly further lean to the north in this photo.

Here's my problem: No one supposedly in charge of this situation has any sense of urgency about it. It takes PSE&G days to respond when an emergency is reported. They seem to have no regard for the safety of those driving around and past this rickety structure, or for the safety of residents and passersby who might get hit by flying debris from it after three PROVEN car collisions with it (now add a fourth collision for the above photo). These are NOT ACCIDENTS. An accident is when a tree limb drops from a tree in front of a car - no one can anticipate that happening - that's an accident. Putting a rickety structure in the middle of a busy street and then abandoning it for weeks hoping no one will run into it is NEGLIGENCE.


POLICE DEPARTMENT RESPONSIBILITY - You KNOW that cars regularly fly down Sanford Street at 35 to 40 miles per hour. Police need to enforce the residential speed limit of 25 MPH.

CITY RESPONSIBILITY: The city needs to put temporary SLOW DOWN signs on both sides of the Melrose Intersection. Perhaps a temporary blinking orange light needs to be there as well.

PSE&G RESPONSIBILITY: This is a BUSY intersection on a county road. ARROWS need to be added to the display to let cars traveling south on Sanford know that they are to keep to the right when passing it, and that they need to slow down. Vehicles coming east on Melrose need to be aware of the danger as well, and perhaps this requires a temporary NO LEFT TURN sign on the display as well.

If someone gets hurt as a result of one of these frequent and proven collisions, it will NOT BE AN ACCIDENT. It will be NEGLIGENCE on the part of those who did not take responsibility.

Registered Complaint #302 sent to the Mayor's Office of Constituent Services on 5/29/14 at 6:15 PM.

05/29/14 6:50 PM The PSE&G WorryFree Truck pulled up to the curb. The driver jumped out, went to the debris and reassembled the next rickety replacement structure. Then he hopped back in his truck and drove away moments after I took this photo (he was already in the truck by then). I'm guessing he was "worry free" about any consequences of his "repair."

The repair. The manhole cover has been placed on top of the plywood. The broken plastic stand is leaning against the north side, attempting to hold up the Chimney Thingee, which still leans to the north. An additional traffic cone has been added to the display, perhaps as a target for cars to aim at. There is no iron manhole cover with a vent hole for the chimney, as was promised by this morning's "inspector." No attempt was made to straighten up the chimney or to tighten the bolts that supposedly hold it to the plywood, and which are surely gradually pulling loose. Now we wait for the next collision or collapse, which is as predictable as the next rain storm - we don't know exactly when it will happen, but we know it will happen. We just have to hope it doesn't involve injury or loss of life. Dono Nuthin is still in charge in East Orange.

5/30/14 Just like that (!snap!) the problem is gone. The chimney is gone, the lean-to is gone, the plywood is gone and the traffic cones are gone. The manhole cover is back covering the manhole and traffic is back to speeding down Sanford Street at 35 to 40 MPH with no impediments. So, what was it all about? Why did we need a chimney thingee in the first place? With Dono Nuthin in charge, I am afraid we will never find out, but if it happens in YOUR neighborhood, you know what to do.

In the meantime, we now know that the mayor has failed on his promise to use the police department to keep our community safe. An entire month went by with an unsafe road condition being reported, which resulted in four vehicle collisions with PSE&G equipment left unsupervised and uncared for in the middle of a busy county road. I'd say that deserves a big NEGATIVE. The proof is that on 6/5/14, when PSE&G came back to Melrose and Sanford to work on the same problem, THIS TIME the streets were blocked off, several police officers were in attendance the whole day long to guide traffic around the hazards, temporary signs were put up telling traffic to slow down, and so on. They know how to do it right. It's just that they failed us for an entire month which resulted in the four collisions mentioned, and the real possibility for more serious collisions, injury and damage for the time that the situation was completely ignored, not just by PSE&G, but the city departments as well.

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