17 Jul

Don’t Mess with Kathleen Harris

92-Year-Old Woman Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands

By Steve Hartman, OSWEGO, N.Y., July 17, 2009

Watch CBS Videos Online]

When Oswego, New York told Kathleen Harris that they were only liable for sidewalk accidents when they were made aware of a problem, she picked up a ruler and a notepad.

At 92, Kathleen Harris says steps are supposed to be hard – but sidewalks aren’t supposed to be steps.

Mrs. Harris hates uneven sidewalks — specifically the cracks, crevices and downright cliffs that threaten her safe passage in Oswego, New York.

Sidewalks became her passion in the summer of 2004 as CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman reports.

After tripping on a sidewalk, Mrs. Harris filed a formal complaint – asking the city pay her $879 medical bill.

In its response, the city told her that it had no idea this particular piece of sidewalk was uneven. The city said, by New York state law, until someone puts it in writing that that there’s a problem with a specific piece of sidewalk – the city’s not liable.

“So I said, well by God, you’re not going to be able to hide behind that excuse any longer. You’re going to be responsible,” said Harris.

To that end, Mrs. Harris got a ruler and a notepad and began the most ambitious survey of sidewalk cracks ever attempted.

We asked her to demonstrate for us how she did it — painstakingly measuring and recording any pieces of pavement that was more than quarter inch off flush.

But even more impressive than her detail – was her scope. This wasn’t just a survey of her street, or even her neighborhood. To ensure that all the residents of Oswego would be covered, Mrs. Harris spent the next three years walking nearly 100 miles of city sidewalk – documenting each and every potential tripping hazard.

Michael Smith, the public works director, was one of many city officials who received Mrs. Harris’s final report – all 7 inches worth.

“We perused them as best we could,” he said.

“Well that means those bastards have just thrown them away,” said Harris.

At this week’s common council, city officials insisted they haven’t thrown them away. While Mrs. Harris insisted – they better not have.

“If anyone falls on your sidewalks now, you are responsible,” she told the meeting.

You have to wonder if they all just wish she’d move to Buffalo, but Mrs. Harris is staying.

Onward and Upward!

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