Lisa Rohmiller held a bag of cigarettes, candy wrappers and other trash in Douglass Park as she laughed alongside a new acquaintance. Rohmiller, administrative supervisor for Columbia City Utilities, and Verna Laboy, with Boone County Public Health and Human Services, had not met before Friday. But both were part of the large group of city workers who volunteered to clean up the town.
Operation Clean Neighborhoods returned to Columbia on Friday for the first time since COVID-19 halted the project in 2020, making it the 11th such event. The cleanup began at Douglass Park and Park Avenue at 8:30 am and proceeded to Wilkes Boulevard.
“Unfortunately, a lot of times people’s interaction with the city can be for a not-so-positive reason,” Rohmiller said. “This is a positive thing we can all do.”
The streets were filled with workers from various city departments in neon vests holding leaf blowers, garbage collectors and garbage bags. Sidewalks were cleaned and roads were scrubbed with mechanical sweepers.
“…Having city employees not only work here but volunteer to clean up that area says a lot about the culture that our mayor and leaders want for the city,” Laboy said.
Leigh Kottwitz, the neighborhood services manager, organized this year’s cleanup. The event had more than 70 city employees volunteer, but shared that they exceeded this number and had a record turnout.
“When you’re walking down a street and looking at a neighborhood, that’s a different perspective than looking at a map or having someone call you on the phone,” Kottwitz said. “When you see it, you get a different sense of the neighborhood.”
Columbia residents were also offered tire collection services during the event. Trash bins were placed in the streets for residents to use as well.
This was the first time for many to volunteer due to the hiatus in the event, Kottwitz said. The day he provided an opportunity for city workers to connect with other workers, but also with area residents.
“We’ve all been through tough times, and it’s hard to clean everything that needs cleaning in life,” Rohmiller said. “If you have a little drive, someone to help you get started, it’s easier to keep things looking good. So I think that goes for life in this truck in the park as well.”