In light of what seems to be nearly universal skepticism of government, Mark Adams, a Canton health official, has done something to likely raise a few eyebrows. He’s spent about $13,000 of his own dough to buy a farm tractor, dump truck, trailer, backhoe, log splitter and other equipment so more eyesore properties can be cleaned up.
Mark Adams recalls the time he introduced his wife to the rickety farm tractor he had purchased — with their money — to clean up eyesore city properties.
Adams, a health department official, was waiting to break the news at the right moment. So he tried to smuggle the tractor to a pole barn in the backyard of their home.
However, as he rumbled past the house, his wife, Michele, peeked out the window.
She was overcome with shock at the sight of the tractor in dire need of fresh paint and repairs.
“Let’s just say I thought, ‘What is in my backyard?’” she recalled.
“‘What is making so much noise?’ And then I look and see Mark driving a used tractor in the backyard.”
She asked her husband the obvious question: Why didn’t the health department or city government buy the tractor? The interrogation also included a choice word or two.
Adams, the Canton Health Department’s director of environmental health, explained the tractor was part of his goodwill mission to speed up efforts to clean up properties cluttered with trash that create nuisances and drag down neighborhoods.
He was well aware that both the health department and city government had budget constraints. And he wanted to prove to other officials how much the cleanup efforts would benefit from more equipment.
“I’m a fake if I’m in public health and I don’t care about what the neighborhoods look like,” Adams said.
But the tractor was not the end of the story.
Adams has shelled out a total of roughly $13,000 of his own dough to buy the tractor, plus a 1994 Ford dump truck, backhoe and other pieces of equipment so the health department can clean up more properties.
Adams doesn’t buy new equipment. The dump truck, affectionately nicknamed “Big Red,” has logged 252,000 miles. A more recent purchase is a 1986 ambulance he found on Craigslist to haul equipment and members of the cleanup crew.
The tractor cost $2,300; the dump truck $2,200; and the backhoe $1,800.
TRASH BY THE TON
As many as 15 properties have been cleaned up in one day, Adams said. “We can actually get it to where we have zero backlog,” he said.
The health department gets assistance from Canton Municipal Court and the Community Service Road Crew, which is comprised of misdemeanant offenders overseen by community sanctions supervisors.
Michael Kochera, administrator of municipal court, agreed that the cleanup effort has been effective and enhanced by additional equipment. Properties with health or building code violations are targeted. The Adams-led group cleans up properties at least once a week.
In 2011, municipal court assisted the health department with 127 nuisance cleanups, Kochera said. Filled with debris were 1,230 55-gallon trash bags. And 1,757 abandoned tires were removed and recycled. A total of 110,720 pounds of debris hauled away.
Page 2 of 3 - “Mark Adams is truly a testament of what a public servant should be,” Kochera said. “He spent ... money out of his pocket ... just to get the job done.”
If the city ever buys the equipment, Adams said, he would sell it for no more than he paid.
Another possibility is for the city to replace the equipment and take over the cleanup program headed by the health department.
Adams said his personal insurance covers his use of the equipment, but he doesn’t allow other city workers to operate it.
Borrowing equipment from other departments can be inconvenient and cause delays, Adams said. The street and sanitation departments often need the equipment, he said.
Adams also has purchased chipping equipment, a trailer to haul equipment, a snowplow blade, log splitter, brush hog and tiller.
Mayor William J. Healy II praised the city employee’s initiative.
“He basically said, ‘I’m going to find a way to do it,’ “ Healy said. “... Not why we can’t do it.”
Adams said he was able to buy the equipment because he’s saved money over the years, including squirreling away income from his 24 years of military service before retiring from the Coast Guard. However, he also sacrificed portions of the family budget. Adams said he delayed the full payment for his son’s braces before he paid off the entire bill.
He also canceled the family’s trip to Florida to visit his parents. Instead he paid the cost for his parents to fly to Stark County.
The use of the personally-purchased equipment coincides with the expansion of programs at the city’s recycling center at Schroyer Avenue and Melchoir Place SW. The program means that less of the trash the health department collects at problem properties is shipped to a landfill, Adams said.
From the end of last October through this past September, the health department-led effort collected 106 tons of garbage, compared to 29 tons for a previous 12-month period, Adams said.
From the end of last October through September, 42.5 tons of electronic waste were collected.
From this past March to the present, 2.5 tons of paper has been collected, Adams said.
For more information about the city’s recycling center, including operating hours, visit: www.cantonhealth.org or call the city health department at (330)489-3327.
‘THERE’S AN ACCOMPLISHMENT’
Adams gladly digs through the muck at cleanup sites. At a recent job, he climbed atop a pile of tree limbs and rubbish in the back of the dump truck, including a bag reeking of a decomposing cat, egg shells, furniture and rancid meat. The 17-year health department employee appears more at ease on the junk heap than he is on the days he wears a necktie and neatly-pressed shirt.
Page 3 of 3 - Some properties are in near shambles. Adams ducked his head into a garage to discover a cave-like spot where it was obvious someone had been sleeping. Rolled carpet and blankets were arranged into a makeshift bed.
“I love it,” he said. “... Some of the happiest people doing their work ... are people who run large equipment every day. They come to work (and) there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s a pile that they have to move and they use heavy equipment or big boys toys .. and at the end of the day there’s an accomplishment.”
Adams said his wife acted a bit frosty toward him for a day after the tractor purchase. But after the initial shock wore off, Michele Adams put her husband’s purchases into a different perspective.
“I guess if we couldn’t afford to do it, I’d be a little more upset,” she said. “But he’s always been duly responsible and always thought ahead for us financially.
“I’ve always thought that you should pay things forward and that’s how Mark is,” she added. “He pays things forward.”
Adams acknowledged that some residents may be skeptical that a city employee would spend $13,000 of his own money for the betterment of the city. So he provided notes and records of the purchases to The Repository.
“The reward is that it cleans things up,” he said.