Today is Monday morning and it is 0 degrees out in Columbia.

It’s predicted to not rise much above 2 degrees all day, and the wind chill effect could push the real-feel temperatures into the minus-20 range.

We are living the last days of a brutal arctic blast. If I didn’t have to feed my hens and change their water, I would not venture outside as temperatures such as these are well known to be dangerous. So it was with alarm and utter disbelief that, as I sat reading on a day off warmly snug at home, I saw the City’s trash truck go by.

The City of Columbia residential trash and recycling trucks were out, on a 0-degree day, with a worker hanging onto the back of the truck, stopping by my neighbor’s yard, picking up her recycling bags.

That anybody in my neighborhood or anywhere in town could expect people to be working outside on such a day is beyond me, but it could be attributed to a glaring private lack of compassion or ignorance. That the City of Columbia would knowingly allow its employees to work under such circumstances is simply unfathomable. Unfortunately, it says a lot about how the City management sees its most vulnerable, and coincidentally least paid, employees: with a disdain and lack of empathy that is bordering on atrocious. (Editor’s note: City utilities spokesperson Matt Nestor said that staff was given the option of working Monday or Saturday and chose Monday, as reported by the Missourian.)

The workers should have been asked to stay home and get paid for their day off, not risk their lives or have to work on Saturday. Nobody needs their trash picked up that bad and these are the worst-paid employees in the city who doing the hardest job, even on a good day.

As a mother, I strive to teach my kids to treat others as they want to be treated themselves — basic parenting and human values, wouldn’t you say? I also expect other people to do the same in this community and society we share, which depends on those commonly held values to thrive: look out for your family, look out for your neighbor, give and receive knowing that this endless swirl of kindness and civic dedication keeps our community’s fabric connected and ultimately, stronger.

What I witnessed this morning in Columbia is a cruel and callous slap in the face of those values our elected officials claim to hold dear. It will be hard to keep on believing in our best intentions as a community. Yet, I want to think we can do better in the City of Columbia.

Are you with me?

Valerie Berta is a Columbia resident.


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