$60, an American Hero, some kids and neighbors picked up garbage that government wouldn’t touch.


Brian Bergson and Charlie Lawson build a cover to a drain pipe to protect neighborhood children from falling into and being injured or killed. 

What took the City of St. Paul, the State of Minnesota and Ramsey County four months not to do took less than a dozen people less than four hours to do:  Pick up garbage.

While the leaders of each government unit did nothing to remove the hazardous waste site in the midst of a residential neighborhood the rats, the drug paraphernalia and the pollution and stench grew.

The threat to children and to families was obvious.  Decaying clothes.  Diapers filled with feces.  Discarded syringes and syringes filled with chemicals.  A knife.  Rats.  Disease.

All of it and more sat and sat and sat for nearly four months while government bickered over who would pick it up and who would pay for it.

In the end, the people of Minnesota, St. Paul and Ramsey County picked it up and paid for it.

To be specific, a 20-year Army veteran with a disability, three children, a former bread baker, a Mac-Groveland Mom, a small business man and his friend, a title company owner who lives outside of the City and a former political hack picked it up and paid for it.

But the people who paid for the City of St. Paul, the State of Minnesota and Ramsey County not doing their job are those who live, work and raise families in the Lowertown area of St. Paul who saw their community decay over months of government neglect.

I’ve been asked why those of us who showed up to pick up garbage would do so given that none of us actually lived in that neighborhood.

Our response, I believe, would be the same:  Because we all live in the same world.

I know that if a garbage dump was in my backyard I would not tolerate it.  I would demand it be picked up.  Or, I would pick it up myself.

I know that St. Paul’s Mayor – the Ward 2 Councilmember who represents that area—the Governor – and the Ramsey County Commissioner who represents the region – would not tolerate a garbage dump in their backyard.

Let me be clear:  Governor Dayton did not tolerate a garbage dump in the front of his home.  He tolerated it in the front of the neighborhood that others live in who pay taxes on their homes and spent a lifetime working and raising families in that neighborhood.

But it wasn’t in their yards.  It was not in their neighborhood.  It wasn’t their children and families at risk.  So they didn’t care enough to do something about it.

Brian Bergson, the 20-year Army Veteran, former state legislator, former high-ranking state official and never-ending public servant, showed up with his truck and two children.

He cared enough to do something about it.

He wasn’t looking for credit.  He was looking to get things done.

Despite a disability, Brian spent nearly six hours of his Saturday and Sunday picking up filthy, stinky, disease-ridden trash.

At one point, this veteran of the 2011 Afghanistan surge commented, “Afghanistan had a distinct smell.  This smells just like it.”

It was Brian who coughed up the $60 to pay to haul the first batch of trash to the dump.

It was Brian who showed up Sunday morning, with his tools and his know-how and put a cover on a gaping hole of a drain pipe that a child could fall into.

A hole that any of his two children could have fallen into and been injured or killed.

The same drain pipe that I texted to St. Paul’s Mayor and my own City Councilmember and asked that they notify somebody to come cover it so that some family wouldn’t experience the tragedy of their child being injured or killed if they fell into it.


Just like the silence that the residents of the neighborhood have experienced since homeless people were expelled from the area in December.

It is, of course, discouraging, frustrating, tragic and sad to know that people lived in this hazardous waste site.

Clearly, we all must do better to take care of those who desperately are in need of society’s generosity and commitment to provide safe housing, medical care, food and care.

Yet, the decision to simply go do what government would not do—pick up garbage – wasn’t a social commentary about homelessness.  It wasn’t even a social protest or some symbolic gesture.

It was about picking up garbage on our neighbor’s yard.  Next to a church.  At the entryway to the City of St. Paul – the capitol City of Minnesota.

Sunday morning Charlie Lawson, the owner of Global Closing and Title Services, drove up at 8:00 am with his truck, shovels and rakes and a smile on his face.

Charlie doesn’t live in St. Paul.  But, he comes from a small Minnesota town, Montgomery, where the people of that community came together to help his brother who was terribly injured in an accident.

Charlie knows something about neighbors coming together to help neighbors.  He lived it as a kid.  He’s experienced it as an adult.  He’s a Dad, a businessman and an employer and member of his community who cares deeply about those who live in it.

His smile quickly turned to a frown.  A simple comment came from his mouth, “I had no idea how horrible this was.”

Yet, the 2nd Ward City Councilmember, the Mayor, the Ramsey County Commissioner, the Governor, the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation – they all knew how horrible it was.

And, they did nothing.

Dropping off trash at City Hall wasn’t a well-thought out idea.

But, it was an idea.

If City Hall can’t pick up garbage where it is at, maybe it’s time we bring the garbage to City Hall.

And, to the State Capitol.  The Ramsey County Office Building.  Anywhere else that politicians and elected officials work so they can see the squalor of what people living in garbage have to experience.

It took City Hall less than a few hours to call up its public works department to remove the trash from City Hall.

It took them nearly four months to do nothing to pick up the trash from a neighborhood.

My neighbors are the heroes in this story.  Not just because they showed up and didn’t ask anybody permission to pick up the garbage that government would not remove.

That’s what all of us as citizens of this country, this state and this city should be prepared to do every single day.

No, they are heroes because they have been serving their community their entire lives.  Because they are the ones who have built and defended and served this country, this state and this city.

It’s called public service for a reason.

In the end, that’s all any of us should be proud to be:  public servants.

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