TAMPA — Public Works Director John Lyons assured Hillsborough County commissioners last month that mowing crews would pick up litter before they cut the grass along county roads and medians.
Lyons was responding to a question from Commissioner Kevin Beckner during a hearing to award mowing contracts to three private companies. Beckner asked specifically how the contractors would handle litter.
Lyons didn’t hesitate: The companies would remove all trash before mowing and would clean up clippings.
“We’re not in the confetti business,” he said.
It didn’t take long for those assurances to come back and bite him.
On Jan. 9, county activist and former commission candidate Mark Nash was driving east on Broadway Avenue just as a county crew was finishing mowing the road’s shoulders between the U.S. 301 overpass and Falkenburg Road. The littered landscape so upset Nash that he pulled over to photograph the minced debris.
Nash was Beckner’s campaign field director and worked for a time as the commissioner’s legislative aide. But he said that relationship played no part in his compulsion to document the detritus dust-up.
“I wasn’t seeking anything out,” Nash said. “I came upon a tractor mowing the public right of way and, as I got closer, I noticed it was a mess of trash on the side of the road getting mowed with the grass. I couldn’t help remember what was said in the county commission meeting a month before.”
After viewing the photos and checking with his staff, Lyons confirmed the mowing crew had screwed up.
“My comment to that was that they should obviously have done a better job of picking up before mowing,” Lyons said. “We understand that occasionally, even if we pick up the litter, that you’re going to miss something, but it shouldn’t have been to that extent.”
Lyons said crews went out the next day and picked up the debris.
Beckner, after talking with Lyons about the photos, said he was satisfied the litter had ultimately been removed, but he vowed to continue monitoring the mowing practices.
“I encourage citizens, if they see excessive trash that’s not being picked up, I’ll take the phone call and make sure it gets corrected,” Beckner said.
Nash, who until recently was rumored to be considering another county commission run, says he travels around the county often and is always on the lookout for sloppy county maintenance. His complaints about overgrown rights-of-way and medians last summer resulted in a Tribune story that revealed landscape work for the county wasn’t getting done.
The work involved two contractors who had declined to exercise extensions of their contracts and quit mowing. County crews scrambled to fill the gap but fell behind, costing taxpayers nearly $60,000 in unbudgeted overtime.
Lyons later admitted the county probably accepted bids that were too low from companies that did not understand the scope of the work they were expected to do.
Nash said he’s not the only county resident who notices overgrown and littered roadways.
“People are increasingly annoyed and irate about the amount of trash on our roads,” Nash said. “You see it in ditches, you see it at intersections. Something needs to be done.”