If you asked around Dennison, MN, some would say that Mayor Jeff Flaten goes above and below his job description. In the 15 months since being elected, Flaten drives to a sewer station on the west edge of the town, pries open a manhole size steel lid, and descends 15 feet through a metal tube to the sewer system below in order to ensure that the village’s wastewater sanitary pumps are functioning correctly.
The job wasn’t exactly one of the perks the mayor was looking forward to. Rather, Flaten stepped up when the city’s longtime sewer and water system operator retired. And since the job is not only unpleasant but also dangerous, Flaten has had no choice but to fill the operator’s empty shoes.
“It’s obsolete and essentially dangerous,” Flaten told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Even still, the mayor makes the descent on a daily basis, including weekends and holidays. Before being elected, Flaten, 49, was a state corrections officer with a college degree in sociology — and he knew nothing about operating sewer pumps.
Now, once a week he has to clean a screen that catches debris before it clogs the pumps and on more than one occasion has had to restart the pumps by hand.
“Somebody’s got to do it. If the poop’s not moving, then it’s going to back up in the sewer mains,” he said.
In hopes of rectifying this dangerous, smelly, and slightly futile position, the mayor has asked Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature for $726,000 in order to build an above-ground lift station. In conjunction, the city promises to donate $48,000 to the cause, which is partly funded by the newly enacted $25 a month water fee for residents.
Currently, Flaten says that the city of Dennison simply can’t afford to pay for the above-ground station out-of-pocket.
And while their plight is in no way as imminent as the ongoing tragedy in Flint, MI, it is yet another iteration of America’s growing national concern over government providing safe and clean water to citizens.