Mayor Rahm Emanuel had to knock down a virtual wall of political resistance before switching garbage removal from a ward-by-ward system controlled by the local alderman to a grid system that crosses ward boundaries.
If mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti has his way, politics would be totally removed from street maintenance services, as he put it, “de-politicizing” the current system.
Fighting for attention in the crowded field of candidates vying to replace Emanuel, Fioretti on Thursday proposed dividing the city into up to a dozen equally-sized districts to handle everything from snow removal and street sweeping to pothole patching and curb, sidewalk and streetlight repairs.
At a City Hall news conference, Fioretti acknowledged that his former City Council colleagues covet their iron-fisted control over housekeeping services.
“There’ll be a pushback from the aldermen,” he said.
But now that Chicago has made the switch to an interactive 311 system that allows residents to go around their local alderman — by using an app to file their complaints and track the progress of those requests — Fioretti said it’s high-time to ditch the ward-by-ward system for all services.
“It’s an archaic system. We’re the only city in the country that uses this kind of a system,” the former alderman said.
“If you have true experts and true districts knowing what we need to do, it’ll be a much more efficient service.”
Fioretti noted many South and West Side wards have “a lot of lights out.” Those darkened streets create a breeding ground for crime, he said.
“If you look at the downtown Central Business District, which is served by Loop Operations, it’s one of the cleanest areas. The lights are fixed immediately. We need that all over the city,” he said.
CDOT spokeman Mike Claffey had no immediate comment on Fioretti’s proposal, which is similar to a plan he unveiled as an alderman that went nowhere.
Streets and Sanitation spokesperson Marjani Williams could not be reached.
Five years ago, Inspector General Joe Ferguson accused Emanuel of overstating grid system savings by $42 million.
Three years later, Ferguson faulted the mayor for failing to squeeze the maximum savings out of that switch because of outdated performance standards, inadequate record keeping and an inaccurate count of the number of households served.
The Department of Streets and Sanitation was specifically accused of assigning more garbage collection crews than were needed to meet its own performance standards, potentially shortchanging other vital services, including forestry.
Emanuel responded to the inspector general’s audit with $7 million in additional savings as he prepared to impose a first-ever garbage collection fee of $9.50 a month.
The mayor worked in partnership with Laborers Union Local 1001 to identify adjustments to grid boundaries that allowed the city to reduce the daily deployment of garbage trucks from 310 to 292. The savings freed up resources for other vital services, including tree-trimming and rodent control.
That’s down from 352 trucks a day before the city made the switch to the grid system.