Cleaning Up Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Department | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Cleaning Up Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department

STREETS & SAN OUTED BY ANOTHER CITY AGENCY

HOST: For the last few years, hiring practices in Chicago city government have been monitored by a federal court. Earlier this month, Mayor Daley received a court-mandated report on the status of hiring reforms. In it, one City of Chicago department accused another of hiring negligence. Our correspondent Dave Glowacz has this report.

[Sound: a street being snow plowed]

EVERY WINTER, THE CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF STREETS & SANITATION APPOINTS "SNOW SUPERVISORS:" EXISTING EMPLOYEES TEMPORARILY PROMOTED TO OVERSEE THE TRUCK DRIVERS WHO PLOW SNOW FROM CITY STREETS.

IT'S A SWEET DEAL, ACCORDING TO A LONG-TIME STREETS & SAN DRIVER WHO WE'RE CALLING JOHN WENTWORTH. (he ASKED US NOT TO USE HIS REAL NAME.) WENTWORTH SAYS EVERY WINTER, THE DEPARTMENT REWARDS SOME EMPLOYEES WITH THE SNOW SUPERVISOR POSITION . . .

JW: . . . where they could go make money and they wouldn't have to drive a plow . . . drive around in a van and get a little more extra overtime. And to get 'em in a position where, hey, they had experience supervising people. So when they go for an interview for foreman or somethin', they could use that for their benefit.

THE PROBLEM, SAYS WENTWORTH, IS THAT HE AND OTHER DRIVERS HAVE NEVER FIGURED OUT HOW TO GET THE SUPERVISOR JOB. JW: Everything was hush-hush. AND DRIVERS WOULDN'T KNOW WHO GOT THE COVETED POSITIONS TILL THE ABSOLUTE LAST MOMENT.

JW: You'd go to snow, and you'd start workin' . . . and you knew who the foremens [sic] were, cuz they were a title and everything. But the snow supervisors, you wouldn't know who would be working it . . . then all of a sudden they'd call you or something, and you'd know who they were.

THERE ARE CITY OFFICIALS WHO SHARE WENTWORTH'S CONCERN . . .

[Start fade-up of Mark Meaney speaking]

. . . BUT YOU WON'T FIND THEM AT CITY HALL. TUCKED AWAY AT THE END OF A BARE, FIFTH-FLOOR CORRIDOR IN A SOUTH-LOOP BUILDING IS THE LITTLE-KNOWN WATCHDOG OF CITY HIRING: THE OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE. MARK MEANEY, ITS FIRST DEPUTY DIRECTOR, HAS THIS TO SAY ABOUT THE HIRING OF SNOW SUPERVISORS.

MM: We were concerned, because there was no what we would term a "process" in place, that upper management could just exert favoritism--however you might define that--in choosing who would be a snow supervisor.

SO, MEANEY SAYS, THE OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE INTERVENED.

MM: We went through a lengthy dialog with Streets & Sans, as one can only dialog with Streets & Sans.

MEANEY SAYS THAT GETTING THE DEPARTMENT TO COMPLY WAS A CHALLENGE.

MM: It's difficult for us to assess whether or not they're intentionally ignoring what we're telling them to do or whether what we tell them to do just gets lost in the mix.

MEANEY SAYS THAT STREETS & SAN EVENTUALLY AGREED TO OPEN UP THE HIRING PROCESS FOR SNOW SUPERVISORS--LETTING ANYONE WITH MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS APPLY. STREETS & SAN PROPOSED TWO QUALIFICATIONS; THE FIRST INVOLVED FOUR YEARS OF SNOW-TEAM EXPERIENCE.

MM: It was four years 100 percent team . . . there have been events over the course of the year that require the entire snow team to be out . . . That they would have to have been part of those events.

A CANDIDATE ALSO HAD TO HAVE WORKED AS A SNOW SUPERVISOR AT LEAST THREE TIMES PREVIOUSLY. THIS LATTER REQUIREMENT DIDN'T SIT WELL WITH THE OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE, AS COMPARABLE CITY POSITIONS DON'T REQUIRE IT. THE AGENCY TRIED TO GET STREETS & SAN TO AGREE.

MM: Well, we never heard back from them . . . and here comes the posting.
 
JUST BEFORE LAST WINTER, STREETS & SAN POSTED ITS NEW MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS FOR SNOW SUPERVISORS. WHILE IT REMOVED THE NEED FOR SUPERVISORY EXPERIENCE, IT REQUIRED THAT CANDIDATES HAD PREVIOUSLY SERVED FORTHREE YEARS IN A 100-PERCENT SNOW TEAM.

MM: That's a red flag for us. Ya know, when you go from four years in the original posting . . . and we said no . . . and then you drop to three: Our thinking is, you're trying to get somebody in.

FINALLY, ON JUNE 1ST OF THIS YEAR THE OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE SUBMITTED A REPORT TO MAYOR RICHARD DALEY ON THE STATUS OF THE CITY'S EFFORT TO MAKE THE CITY'S HIRING TRANSPARENT AND FREE FROM FAVORITISM. THE REPORT SINGLED OUT THE HIRING OF SNOW SUPERVISORS AS AN EXAMPLE OF A COMPLIANCE FAILURE BY A RECALCITRANT DEPARTMENT OF STREETS & SANITATION.

MM: You have an individual you want to get the job--or the appointment. And so that's what we bring up in our report.

MEANEY SAYS THAT STREETS & SAN HAS NOW AGREED TO COOPERATE WITH THE OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE ON THE HIRING PROCESS FOR SNOW SUPERVISORS. LATER THIS YEAR, HE SAYS, AFTER STREETS & SAN HAS DEPLOYED THE SUPERVISORS, THE OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE WILL AUDIT PERSONNEL RECORDS TO MAKE SURE THE HIRING JIBED WITH THE NEW RULES.

[Snow plow sound]

REGARDLESS OF HOW THE CITY CHOOSES ITS SNOW SUPERVISORS, SOME WONDER WHETHER THE POSITION IS EVEN NECESSARY. JOHN WENTWORTH SAYS:

JW: No. These guys, they'd call you with stupid stuff . . . just kinda busy work--unnecessary supervision. You're plowing, you know what to do.

WENTWORTH SAYS THAT WHEN HE STARTED PLOWING SNOW 20-PLUS YEARS AGO . . .

JW: . . . you had one foreman for each district in the city. And maybe a couple here or there. Now you're lookin' at, each district has four to five people supervisin' drivers.

[Start snow plow sound]

A SPOKESMAN FOR STREETS & SANITATION REFUSED TO COMMENT FOR THIS REPORT.

[Fade out snow plow sound]

FOR WBEZ, I'M DAVE GLOWACZ.

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