Because Steve Masters was ticketed for passing a stopped school bus in Akron, a sidewalk in North Hill was a bit safer for students who walked home from school Friday.
Masters, 49, of Munroe Falls, and three other court-appointed community service workers cleared the sidewalk in zero-degree weather Friday morning instead of paying court fines or spending time in jail.
The program, run by the city of Akron, puts nonviolent felons and misdemeanor offenders to work.
Workers logged 20,448 hours of community service last year, said John Eaton, the customer service manager for Akron Municipal Court.
“They traditionally perform jobs that are not assigned to other folks in the city. For instance, one time we cleaned out the canal,” Eaton said of a public works project performed three years ago. “The waters were lowered and we pulled out shopping carts.”
During the summer, the men remove litter, use mostly hand tools and sometimes operate weed trimmers or cut grass. When the snow covers trash-littered lawns, the men swing pickaxes and spud bars at icy sidewalks, usually selected from a list of dangerous intersections and bridges near schools. Occasionally, the group will clear residential sidewalks if a legitimate complaint is phoned in to 311.
Eaton said anywhere from four men, as was the case during inclement weather Friday, to as many as 20 men show up Monday through Friday at the city’s Central Services Facility. The city-owned building and garage on East Market Street houses the community service department and Keep Akron Beautiful, a public works program similar to community service that is staffed by female court-appointed workers and volunteers.
Masters began his community service work cutting grass in November, when he was given three months to complete four days of work in lieu of a $360 court fine for passing that school bus.
Joining Masters were three other men in the program and two supervisors.
Masters followed behind Darryl Woods, 25, of Akron, who had ice forming on his beard. Woods used a solid rake to clear away chunks of ice broken lose by co-workers.
The men removed a snow mound that had buried much of the sidewalk at North Howard Street and East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue. A local resident had complained to the city about the intersection, a high traffic area where students often venture into the street to find a safe route to Findley elementary school and Jennings middle school.
Woods didn’t offer much detail on the situation that landed him on the sidewalk on a frigid Friday morning.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got in trouble with the police,” he said. For his offense, he was directed to rehabilitation and probation through the Akron Municipal Mental Health Court.
When he missed a couple of check-ins, he said the judge ordered him to the community service detail instead of jail or fines.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Woods said, leaning on his rake. “I didn’t even know there was this program with the city until I came out here.”
The goal, Eaton said, is to provide a cost-effective public service and give the men a purpose, if only for a few short days.
“For the most part, they’re not bad people,” Eaton said. “They just made bad mistakes.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.