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City Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne leaving

Streets SanitatiCommissioner Tom Byrne shown last year triggered City Council rebellilast year by switching grid system. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne, shown last year, triggered a City Council rebellion last year by switching to a grid system. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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It looks like one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s favorite trouble-shooters will be the first to leave Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s cabinet.

Sources said Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne — an ally of Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader — is preparing to retire from city government around Labor Day even as the city’s third-largest department faces a host of changes that threaten to alienate Chicago aldermen.

Earlier this week, Byrne stood at Emanuel’s side as the mayor announced a “managed competition” between private recycling contractors and city employees that, over time, will deliver suburban-style curbside recycling to 359,000 Chicago households without it.

The recycling contracts set the stage for the city to set up a similar competition for normal refuse collection, following through on Emanuel’s campaign promise to cut the city’s annual tab for garbage collection by as much as $65 million.

Last year, Byrne triggered a City Council rebellion by stripping aldermen of their exclusive control of street sweepers and switching to a grid system that divided Chicago into 33 same-sized chunks.

Now, Streets and San is inviting a similar rebellion by asking consultants to “assist in the switch from a ward-based to a grid-based routing system” for routine garbage collection.

“The consultant will develop an optimized route system for residential collection services in order to create balanced routes” that create an “equitable workload for route drivers,” according to a document distributed by the mayor’s office.

Aldermen are dead-set against the idea. They’re determined to maintain control over housekeeping and snow removal services that are an alderman’s bread and butter.

“Every ward now has their own trucks. That gives us the ability to clean up lots and do different things instead of having laborers sit around doing nothing in between loads,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).

“It’s also about having that personal touch with your ward superintendent being familiar with your ward and your residents. If you go to a grid system, you lose that personal touch. Same thing with snow removal. When those trucks go inside, ward superintendents know what streets need small equipment and what streets don’t. With a grid system, you lose all of that. Nobody will know who to call.”

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) noted that, in a ward-by-ward system, problems with Streets and San services “can be dealt with the same day.” Under a grid system, residents would be “at the mercy of the 311 system, which is not always the most reliable or responsive,” he said.

“I’m very concerned that it will affect the quality of service delivery,” Moore said.

Chris Mather, Emanuel’s communications director, said: “We are conducting an assessment to determine how to provide residents with the best garbage collection services for the best price and we will work closely with the city council to achieve that goal.”

Byrne is the former Chicago Police officer and longtime Daley favorite summoned to City Hall in 2005 to clean up a Transportation Department hard hit by the Hired Truck and missing asphalt scandals.

Four years later, Byrne was shifted to Streets and San to replace longtime Commissioner Michael Picardi, who was swept out after complaints of lavish snow removal spending, lax field supervision and allegations of continued personnel abuses.

Earlier this year, Byrne was under fire for the Blizzard of 2011 fiasco that shut down Lake Shore Drive. A few months later, he was forced to make dramatic cutbacks in forestry and rodent control services as Streets and San struggled to sweep the streets and pick up garbage amid a two-year hiring freeze and chronic absenteeism.

The grid system is not the only impending controversy at Streets and San.

An independent arbitrator has joined Laborers Union Local 1001 in questioning how private recycling contractors “could realistically expect to produce the same level of service” with one-employee crews working 28 routes, compared to 45 routes with two-employee crews currently used by the city.

“There is a potential for a public relations nightmare if this privatization does not provide the same level of service now provided by city crews,” the arbitrator wrote.

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