Clarance Patterson, who spent decades in local government, once led the Miami Solid Waste Department, and in that capacity transformed the city’s streetscapes.
It was Patterson who, in 2002, rid the roadways of overflowing household garbage cans, bringing in the 96-gallon green trash bins and the automated trucks that snatch and dump them.
In doing so, he saved the county millions and spared the aching backs of sanitation workers. It had taken Patterson a decade to convince city officials that refuse collection was better done by machine than man.
“This method represents the end of manual collection of solid waste, ” Patterson said at the time. “This also keeps the city cleaner and more attractive.”
Patterson, born Jan. 8, 1933, in rural Georgia, where he once drove a garbage truck, died on Aug. 24 at North Shore Hospital after his kidneys failed, said his wife, Albertha W. Patterson. He was 80.
Patterson, a former union organizer, came to South Florida in the 1950s. He served several Miami-Dade municipalities as well as the county, most recently Opa-locka. He retired as city manager in 2011 after 16 months. Two years earlier he’d retired as North Miami’s city manager, a post he held for six years.
“I have been working since I’m 8,” he told the Miami Herald. “It’s time.”
During nearly a half-century in municipal government, Patterson had been Miami-Dade’s solid waste director, Miami’s deputy city manager, and public works director in both South Miami and Miami Springs.
Recently, Patterson and a friend launched a commercial cleaning company, Despinnosse & Patterson.
Known as a gentleman, Patterson left Opa-locka as the FBI went after the city’s corrupted police department, which reported to Patterson.
“I’m 79 now and I’m not going to jail for nobody,” Patterson told the Herald last year. “The things I was being asked to do, I just wouldn’t do. I’m not saying anybody asked me to do anything illegal, but the city and the police department have some serious problems and need cleaning up.’’
In January 2011, Patterson began what he thought would be a confidential inquiry into allegations of police corruption. But someone leaked it. Soon, the implicated officers and the human resources director were fired. Then Patterson quit, citing a call to his wife by Vice Mayor Dorothy Johnson, alleging an affair.
“I will not take personal attacks on my character and my integrity from anyone,” he wrote to the City Commission, tendering his resignation.
Patterson, who waged a “war on trash’’ in Little Havana, Overtown and other neglected neighborhoods, had a reputation for cleaning up personnel messes as well as street refuse.
In the early 1980s, he went after sanitation workers who abused sick leave to enjoy long weekends.
“Damn it,” he said, “I don’t believe the good Lord makes you sick on every Monday following a pay day.”
As a manager, Patterson expected employees to do their jobs, and if they didn’t, “he allowed you to fire yourself’’ by bad performance, said his wife, whom he married in 2000. “He always tried to help people.’’
But there’s one thing that the municipal trash czar never did at home, according to his wife.
“He never took out the garbage.’’
In addition to his wife, Patterson is survived by a son, Theodore G. Patterson, and daughters Louise Williams,
Thewander Houston and Michelle Dismuke.
A funeral was held.