The four-man city crew inched along Wednesday morning, patching potholes on stately Summit Avenue in St. Paul.
They went from hole to hole to hole, barely speaking. They hardly paused.
They knew they were being watched.
From City Hall desks to the neighborhood streets, St. Paul workers have been stepping it up in the days following a TV report that showed Public Works employees sloughing off on the public's dime. Mayor Chris Coleman exploded when he saw the KSTP-TV footage, the department's director stepped down and an investigation was ordered.
The inquiry into alleged misconduct in the paving office will begin Thursday.
While the TV report sparked outrage, it also stung the city. Officials have been quick to say that many city employees hustle. Still, word has been spread among the departments for employees to put their heads down and work.
The pothole patching crews are especially keen to the new scrutiny, and former Director Bruce Beese's last major act was to set a detailed policy of when and where workers may take breaks and how they should conduct themselves.
"We do a great deal of our work in locations visible to all, and therefore we must always strive to hold ourselves to very high standards," he wrote in a Friday memo.
Several crews moved along quickly Wednesday.
Scraaaaaape! Rake, rake, rake! Steam rose off the piles of hot asphalt that glistened against the worn and graying pavement it was intended to mend.
Bernie Lind shoveled the hot mix onto tar-covered holes and cracks, while Steve Kustrich raked it out. A bang of the shovel onto the back of the maroon dump truck that carried the mix told the driver to roll forward.
Workers were asked about the TV report and the fallout from it.
"We're not supposed to talk," Kustrich said while raking out a patch on Summit.
Motorists rolled by intermittently. There was no noticeable heckling or icy stares directed at the crew. Birds sang, joggers ran past. An acrid tar smell hung in the cool morning air.
At Cretin and University Avenues, the holes were bigger and the traffic was busier.
Three men shoveled and raked the piles of hot asphalt onto the cracked pavement. One drove a yellow packer to tamp down the piles.
He got down from the vehicle to help his crewmates shovel mix, and was asked what he thought of the report.
"We've been told to say, 'No comment,'" he said cheerfully.
He put on his ear protectors, hopped onto the packer and continued to work.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148