July 8, 2008
Dougherty Co.- Very few people look forward to working outside during the hot days of summer, but Donell Mathis does.
"Good morning, ladies," says Donell as he walks into the Dougherty County Department of Public Works office at 2108 Habersham Road.
"He's the mosquito buster," says Betty McKinney, an administrative secretary with the Department who often handles mosquito complaints.
"One time I got a complaint from a man who said he had so many mosquitoes that it looked as if they (mosquitoes) were having a bar-b-cue outside," says Betty.
Every workday morning, Donell goes by the office to get his hit list, a log of complaints about mosquitoes, with names, addresses and phone numbers. Sometimes he doesn't recognize an address and goes to a large county map to pinpoint the location. If he can't find it, he calls to get directions.
An Eagle Drive address looks familiar.
The resident meets Donell outside to explain her problem. He listens intensely.
"We'll take a look around and see what we find," says Donell.
He lifts a potted plant from a bird bath revealing water that seems too little to grow mosquitoes.
"Even a bottle cap (of water) can grow mosquitoes," says Donell.
He didn't see any wiggly, worm-like creatures called larvae swimming in the small amount of water. He pours the water out before a female mosquito finds it and lays her eggs.
He checks another potted plant. No larvae, but a potential mosquito nursery.
Donell walks to the back of her home, notices another potted plant, pours water into his white dipper-cup and looks with his laser eyes for the swimming larvae.
"You got some larvae here," says Donell. "It's active."
He pours the standing water out instantly killing the growing mosquitoes.
Donell looks for other containers that might hold water. Often he finds little pools of still water growing hundreds of mosquitoes.
"About 75% of the homeowners cause their own problems," says Donell.
That's the case here. Neighbors and infested storm drains could account for the other 25%.
"See that red mark on the side of the drain over there," asks Donell as he points down the street. The red/orange dot appears to jump out. "That means we've had problems here before."
A quick sampling with his dipper-cup reveals nothing. That would be enough for most people, but not for Donell. He takes another sample to make sure.
‘There they are," says Donell.
Several larvae look as if they enjoy a morning swim that won't last long. Donell pours them on the grass, throws two pieces of an insecticide in the storm drain that kills the remaining brothers and sisters.
Listening and watching Donell work immediately shows a refreshing attitude about his public service job. He treats taxpayers, the complainers, like customers, as if they bought his services at a store and paid cash.
"These are the people I work for," says Donell.
He works for a lot of people, the 95-thousand people who live in Dougherty County.
"Call him and he comes. He's a very nice person," says Jeanette Elia who lives next to a wooded area.
"He looks around for (standing) water, but hopefully he doesn't find any," says Jeanette who called to thank Donell for controlling the mosquitoes in her neighborhood.
What makes him so different? His mother.
"You are responsible for yourself and your actions," says Donell, quite a difference from placing blame on others, common in our culture today. "Stop blaming someone else for your actions."
Time doesn't seem to matter to him; he doesn't punch a clock or look to see how long before he gets off work.
"I don't report every hour I work," says Donell, a salaried employee eligible for comp time for the extra hours he puts in helping others. "I'm not an eight-to-five type guy."
He looks at himself a body guard for each person who lives in the County.
"I take a lot of pride in my work. It's a drive," says Donell.
A drive to learn all he can about the biology of mosquitoes, even wearing a belt buckle with a large mosquito on it. He grows mosquitoes in his office for group presentations.
"These are enemies," says Donell.
About eight mosquitoes sit on the side of a jar, as if ready to attack Donell if they could escape. One might harbor the deadly West Nile Virus.
"Only the females bite," says Donell. "They need a blood meal."
How does he tell females from males?
The males have beards," says Donell as he points to a male mosquito on the side of the jar standing next to a female.
Sure enough, the male looks darker around his mouthparts compared to the female. It's doubtful you'll get close enough to see a beard on a male mosquito.
Donell gets close to his work that's much more than a job, more like a profession, where his mother instilled a strong sense of personal responsibility for 95,000 people who couldn't have a better bodyguard.