RAT-CATCHING IN THE CITY
INSPECTOR GENERAL UNCOVERS A HEALTH VIOLATION
OUR REACTION to the news that a city health inspector somehow managed to collect a full-time city salary at the same time he was getting paid to work for the Washington, D.C., health department was not exactly "nice work if you can get it."
We reacted instead with almost grudging admiriation for the sheer nerve of George J. Zameska, who was an administrator in charge of food inspections for the city until he "retired" last year.
After his "retirement" party, he stayed on the city payroll, collecting $86,000 a year for working one day a week and continuing to earn credits toward his pension.
Mainly, though, we're outraged. Because the details of this case, brought to light by the city's inspector general's office and reported in yesterday's Daily News, suggest that Zameska is not the only culprit in this case: his "arrangement" - a feat he pulled off by working on Saturdays and using vacation time stored up over 31 years in the department - had to have been approved by his bosses in the Health Department.
This arrangement also kept the department from filling his position with a full-time staffer - one who, ironically, would probably be checking for pests and vermin in the city's restaurants.
That's why we're glad that Inspector General Seth Williams says the investigation into this matter is not over. When it is, we hope there's some justification for this outrageous deal, or that enough heads roll.
This case is a good reminder of why the inspector general's office plays a vital role in the city, especially if we intend to turn around our centuries-old reputation of being corrupt and content.
That's why we hope that when City Council reconvenes on Sept. 20, it immediately will take up a bill authored by Councilwoman Carol Campbell that would make the inspector general's office independent and permanent.
The office, originally created by executive order, is a vital link in the ethics chain and should be allowed to act free from potential compromises from the mayor's office or from any other City Hall office that could dictate the course of its investigations.
It should also be fortified: The office has nine staffers and two more on loan. Chicago has 60; Washington has 100, and New York City has 400.
If we're serious about cleaning out the vermin in the halls of the city, we're going to need enough rat-catchers to do the job. *