Weather Updates

City adds new layer of bosses to aid garbage pickup

Sun-Times library

Sun-Times library

storyidforme: 53166441
tmspicid: 3466423
fileheaderid: 1937700

Updated: September 8, 2013 6:24AM

Under pressure from aldermen, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has created a whole new layer of middle-management — at an annual cost of $592,000 — to ride herd over a grid-based garbage collection system he’s counting on to save a revised $18 million-a-year.

The $592,000 hiring blitz in a Department of Streets and Sanitation already known for its redundant layers of middle-management will add three divisions and eight new division superintendents with annual salaries ranging from $63,000 to $97,000.

Although the mayor’s budget team has boasted about eliminating “ghost” vacancies, Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman Anne Sheahan said the new layer of bureaucracy was paid for by eliminating eight vacant administrative jobs to save $610,000.

Eliminated titles ranged from assistant commissioners and staff assistants, to an assistant to the commissioner, a voucher expediter, a storekeeper and a chief dispatcher, she said.

Sheahan argued that the “management structure” in the city’s third-largest department “didn’t match operations” when refuse collection was switched from a ward-by-ward system to a grid system that divided the city into eight divisions. Previously, the city had five divisions, with ten wards each.

“Each day of the grid, a different ward superintendent would manage grid operations. There was a lack of continuity in terms of management of the trucks and manpower from day-to-day,” Sheahan said.

“By adding these eight division superintendents, there is now one person who will be responsible for managing the grid every day in each division. It will ensure operations continuity and increase accountability. Further, ward superintendents will now be back in the wards every day ensuring that their alleys are clean, special [requests] are addressed quickly and basket [pick-ups] are maintained. Through feedback with some of the alderman, we wanted ward superintendents to provide greater hands-on supervision in their wards every day.”

Sources said the new jobs were created in response to an avalanche of complaints from aldermen concerned that ward superintendents were being yanked out of their wards for much of the work week to supervise grid pick-ups.

“My ward superintendent was only in the ward 1.5 days a week,” said one alderman, who asked to remain anonymous.

“If we had a block party or special event — or if there was a storm with trees down that had to be picked up — we had to wait until Friday because the ward superintendent wasn’t around. All of the aldermen were starting to bitch.”

One of the eight new division superintendents is the former ward superintendent for Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd).

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to save $60 million a year by making the switch from an inefficient, ward-by-ward system to a more efficient grid system for collecting garbage.

When the citywide transition was completed last spring, the mayor acknowledged without explanation that the change would generate just $18 million a year.

Last month, Inspector General Joe Ferguson tried to verify the mayor’s revised savings claim, but his efforts to audit Emanuel’s grid-based garbage collection system were stonewalled.

At the time, Ferguson recommended that Streets and San: overhaul an “inefficient” supervisory structure tailor-made to accommodate the now-defunct, ward-by-ward system and establish performance measurements to guarantee maximum performance under the grid system.

Ferguson could not be reached for comment about Emanuel’s decision to create a whole new layer of bureaucracy to supervise the grid.

The dead-ended audit escalated the feud between Emanuel and the inspector general he inherited.

But, the mayor insisted that his only quarrel with Ferguson was the inspector general’s timing in launching the audit before the transition was fully-implemented.

“I want all my commissioners to cooperate [with the IG] because we’ve used a lot of the studies … to actually bring the type of savings the taxpayers expect,” the mayor said at the time.

But, he said, “We didn’t want to study it while we were implementing it, but get it implemented and then, we want it studied so we can actually show the full savings.”

Last year, a handful of aldermen complained about overflowing baskets on commercial strips, missed pick-ups and rotten working conditions in the switch from a ward-by-ward system controlled by aldermen to a grid system controlled by City Hall.

A few months later, then-Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne acknowledged that the transition was experiencing “growing pains,” but said he was working through those problems.

By April, Emanuel and new Commissioner Charles Williams were celebrating the final phase of the transition and claiming that virtually all of the start-up problems had been resolved.

But, the mayor also made a surprising admission: his prior estimate of a $60 million savings was now down to just $18 million to bankroll household recycling citywide.

After adding the new layer of management, Sheahan said Streets and San has given all of its supervisors “intensive training outlining their new roles and responsibilities within the context of the grid.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.