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Council member trains on the job

(ran East, South, West editions)

Last month, Council member Rick Butler stuck his head into the city's sewers. This month, he raked the ballfields at Youth Park.

Butler is making good on a promise he made during the election campaign earlier this year. He vowed to work one day a month in each department to learn the city from the ground up.

"I want to see what it takes to make it work," he said.

He spent Tuesday with the Parks Department, mostly maintaining seven soccer and three baseball fields.

Butler's day began around 7:15 a.m. when parks workers began arriving at the city's Public Works building. Before clocking in at 7:30, they socialized, flipped through a gun catalog and bought coffee and doughnuts from a canteen truck.

Matt Bale, a foreman with the Parks Department, greeted Butler: "You picked a good day for it. It's going to be hot. You might want to take that shirt off."

Butler wore a denim shirt over a T-shirt and blue jeans. Other workers sported Pinellas Park T-shirts and navy shorts or blue shirts with the city's logo and navy pants. They all wore navy blue Pinellas Park caps.

The department has 18 workers (two of them women) and two managers. The workers are paid from $8.14 an hour to $14.59 an hour, depending on their job and seniority. Most work from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with two 15-minute breaks and a half-hour for lunch. Four employees work shifts from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The department also uses interns from the Public Works Academy in St. Petersburg, a training ground for city workers.

Work crews maintain all parks, ballfields, soccer fields and the medians along Park Boulevard and 66th and 49th streets N. They also maintain the overpass at U.S. 19 N and 49th Street and the grounds around city buildings as well as the plants inside some of those buildings.

Monday, when parks workers arrived at Youth Park, they found a real mess. Broken beer bottles littered the ground. At the soccer fields, someone had dragged tables together.

What appeared to be human feces was left on the tots' play court. Someone had stepped in it and tracked it across the rubbery surface and then scraped off their shoes on the tables. All that had to be cleaned off.

Tuesday, things were neater: only crushed M&Ms and cigarette butts.

"It takes forever to pick all the cigarette butts up," said Steve Renew, who was working with Butler on Tuesday. But for the most part, Butler and his fellow workers spent Tuesday marking sprinkler heads with yellow flags so Jerry Garner could aerate the ground without damaging them.

Garner drove a tractor outfitted with a gizmo that resembled a rotating porcupine. The spines plunged into the ground and tossed out dirt divots in a confetti-like spray behind it.

Then, workers dragged the field to get rid of the clods, and Butler helped rake the clay portion of the ballfields.

Butler said he did not regret his workday vow. At least not yet.

"Ask me in August," he said.