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Picking up city's litter, tossing aside its red tape

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 7, 2003


They call themselves the "Snell Isle Streetwalkers." Six mornings a week for the past 25 years, these St. Petersburg women have met, crossed the bridge over to the mainland, walked down to the North Shore Pool and then turned around.

There are five Streetwalkers on a more-or-less regular basis, and a couple others who come when they can. The lineup has changed over the years due to bad knees, or illness, or, you know, more permanent causes. But there are always new members.

The Streetwalkers talk about that morning's news and whatever else is on their minds. Along the way, they pick up litter. They are especially keen on monofilament fishing line, which is harmful to wildlife.

A few years ago the Streetwalkers decided to join the city's Adopt-A-Street program.

They filled out the forms. The city's guy apparently took the name seriously. He told Mary Joan Mann, the senior member of the group: "Well, it's all right with ME, lady." Sure enough, the city put up a nice sign on Brightwaters Boulevard: "Snell Isle Streetwalkers."

That was maybe 10 years ago.

Last month, Mary Joan Mann got an 11-page letter from the city, advising the Streetwalkers that there were some updated requirements for adopting a street.

"At this time, the City is asking you to review the attached material and return a signed Program Agreement," Mann read.

"Once the Agreement is fully signed by you and the City, we will contact you to schedule a safety meeting. A Public Service Representative will meet with you to review the safety recommendations and program requirements."

Mann read on. "You will note that the Program Agreement has a Participant Release, Waiver and Indemnity Agreement," the letter said, "which needs to be filled out by each participant prior to the clean-up."

The Streetwalkers would need to wear orange vests supplied by the city, along with appropriate clothing and gloves.

The letter warned the Streetwalkers against "horseplay" on their morning walk, and informed them that open-toed shoes would not be allowed. Participants would be required to submit a Litter Clean-Up Notice to the city before picking up garbage.

Mary Joan Mann thought for a little while and wrote back to the city. She said the Streetwalkers had been covering their territory six days a week for 25 years.

"We are enormously proud of our Snell Isle Streetwalker sign," she wrote. "But we are NOT going to attend meetings, wear vests or sign any papers of any kind. If this means you are going to take our sign away -- so be it."

Hearing about the Streetwalkers' plight through nefarious sources (one of them works in our news library), I called Mann. She made me promise that I would not be mean to the city. After all, she said, the city has always been quick to make repairs, even to trim the lower-hanging palm fronds.

"I'm not blaming the city in the least," Mann told me. "They have to do this to protect themselves against undue lawsuits and all that."

But as for the Streetwalkers -- no vests. No gloves. No contracts. No Participant Release, Waiver and Indemnity Agreements.

I talked to Evelyn A. Rosetti, the city's manager of program administration, who sent the letter to the Streetwalkers and to all the other Adopt-A-Street volunteers. She was very gracious and reasonable.

Adopt-A-Street is an excellent program. In fact, more groups and schools and even individuals or families who are looking for something good to do should consider it. You can call Evelyn Rosetti at (727) 893-7297.

The city's rules certainly are understandable. If a bunch of elementary kids are out on the roadside, they need to be properly supervised, and they need to be wearing vests. Given today's legal climate, it also is smart for the city to deal with liability questions.

But I asked Rosetti -- what about the Streetwalkers? Will city crews be ripping out their sign?

Rosetti said she certainly did not want to encourage anyone to ignore the guidelines.

I sensed a "but."

But?

"I'm not taking down their sign," she said.

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