Street cleaners may soon move on Plan to transfer hokey men has neighborhood residents upset. CLEAN SWEEP


Bob Welling will miss the large cold glasses of iced tea in the summer, the steaming cups of coffee in the winter, the friendly hellos and the kids who want to stop and play ball.

It's almost as if Welling is an honorary resident of Bolton Hill. But soon he must leave the neighborhood.

Welling is a hokey man, a member of Baltimore's neighborhood street-cleaning force. By July 1, the city Bureau of Solid Waste, for budgetary reasons, will transfer the last of the 60 remaining hokey men out of their permanent assignments in many of the city's residential communities and assign them to business districts.

Welling, 29, has been a hokey man for slightly more than four years. On his first day on the job, he was sent to Bolton Hill and paired with Bob Homberg who, for 15 years, has cleaned the tree-lined streets outside the neighborhood's townhouses.

Homberg, with his distinctive cowboy hat as a trademark, has been honored by the neighborhood association for his work in keeping the streets and alleys clean.

Welling had hoped to follow in the shadow of Homberg's cowboy hat.

"The people here have been great to me, especially when they have been so used to Bob Homberg all these years," Welling said.

"The people would give you iced tea in the summer, coffee when it was cold and they went out of their way to say hello. I guess that's why Bob and I went out of our way to do extra things for them. Most hokey men don't clean alleys or pull weeds from around the tree wells, but we did."

Welling has even helped police catch car thieves and burglars who tried to prey on the residents of the neighborhood. And he once found an old woman who had strayed from the Bolton Hill nursing home and helped her get home safely.

Hokey men, with their metal carts, push brooms and shovels, were used instead of mechanical sweepers in residential neighborhoods. Most residents didn't want the inconvenience of parking restrictions that accompany the use of mechanical street sweepers.

Three years ago, the city had 133 hokey men, but the number has dropped steadily to the current 60.

The city pays for its street-cleaning operatings with money it receives from the state. Over the past three years, the amount of state money has decreased, forcing the city to cut back on the hokey men by not filling vacancies, said George C. Balog, city public works director.

Under a new plan announced last week, the force of hokey men will be transferred to business centers to clean up debris on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, Balog said.

The hokey men are needed in the business districts because parked vehicles make it impossible for mechanical equipment to get to all the trash, explained Balog.

When the hokey men aren't working in the business districts, they will work with mechanical street and alley sweepers assigned to do clean-up blitzes in residential neighborhoods with particularly bad trash problems, said Balog.

Depleting the hokey men through attrition will save the city about $347,000 annually, said public works officials.

Meanwhile, community organizations have been clamoring to have their hokey men returned. And members of the City Council say they are determined to help the communities out.

Mary Parrish, president of the West Lafayette Improvement Association, said moving the hokey men into the business districts will have an adverse impact on neighborhoods.

"Our community takes pride in doing all that we can to keep our streets and alleys clean," said Parrish. "We even pay one of our own residents to keep our community play lot clean."

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, said the council will discuss the plans to reassign the hokey men June 4 when it reviews the public works department's budget for the coming fiscal year.

"It's a mistake to take the hokey men out of the communities," said Dixon. "People are plenty upset about it."

Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the removal of the hokey man is the major constituent complaint right now.

Clarke said the city is looking to use some motor vehicle revenues to create a separate parking division. She thinks that at least some of that money could be used to hire more hokey men and keep them in the neighborhoods.

Bob Welling certainly hopes so, even as he prepares to leave his neighborhood.

rTC "I'm really going to miss it around here," Welling said as he swept litter along a curb on West Lanvale Street. "I was just getting to know the people here real well. It seems like I just got here and now it's time to say goodbye. I hope they liked the job I did for them the past four years as much as I liked doing it."

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