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Flood Bros. replaces Waste Management in park regions, what does it mean re: services, shrinking staffing levels, and privatization?

The switch to Flood Bros. in early 2005 saw as huge improvement in trash pickup frequency and efficiency but continued problems with who is to bring the cans to the edge of the park and back, and keeping cans from disappearing. At the end of 2005, the park trades supervisor appointed staff to move the cans. Still, there is considerable slippage by Flood and problems with sufficient, right placement of trash cans in summer/fall 2006. Part of the problem is not enough park staff to bring the cans to and from the curb and doubts as to whether such double moving is a reasonable way to handle the cans.

Following nearly two decades of complaints about Waste Management service the District has an new waste vendor. In November, 2004, the Park District did not renew Waste Management's collection contract in those regions with privatized collection, but chose instead Flood Brothers of Oakbrook Terrace, which has a good reputation. However, several members of local councils fear that unless unrealistic procedures are changed and real expectations and penalties are placed in the contract, matters will not improve. Note: there is a basis for comparison: the Lakefront continues its waste removal in house, in most eyes successfully.

An observation: timely trash removal is more than a matter of aesthetics in Nichols Park: rats, vermin and disease abound in such waste, partly because much dog refuse is deposited in the cans by our conscientious dog watchers who pick up after their pets. Also, it fits with the human colony problem in the park and with maintaining the quality/livability/attracting ability of a major residential area and prime business street (53rd) and arterial (55th) that abut the park. See editorial at bottom of page.

The article which follows is a good summary of the matter and some perspectives on privatization. SEIU and other unions point out a litany of poor results and damage to Chicago's middle and working classes, especially African-American and Latino. For more on the trash issue locally see Nichols Park home.

 

City changes waste service for local parks- Decision shows limits of privatizing services

Hyde Park Herald, November 24, 2004. by Mike Stevens

After almost two decades of complaints about its poor performance, Waste Management lost its Chicago Park District contract Nov. 10 to haul away trash from the city's parks. The [once Chicago-area but now] Houston-based trash collection corporation will be replaced in January by Flood Brothers Disposal and Recycling Services, which is based in Oakbrook Terrace.

Trash removal, or lack thereof, has been such a source of irritation for the Nichols Park Advisory Council that member Van Bistrow heads up a separate committee that focuses exclusively on the park's trash issues. [Van] Bistrow said shortly before hearing of Waste Management's firing [that he would be glad at a change.]

Afterwards, Bistrow... opt[ed] to call for future contracts to list specific procedures and responsibilities. The lack of direct oversight and accountability is as much to blame for Nichols' trash troubles as Waste Management's performance, Bistrow said.

Since the 1980s, private businesses have take responsibility for an increasing number of jobs previously handled by park district employees. Requests to the park district for comment about the benefits of privatization went unanswered by Herald presstime. Park advocates say there have been success stories. Similarly, the district could not answer questions about how much if any money has been saved through outsourcing by presstime.

Despite some success, some park advocates point to problem area, like trash removal, as harbingers of trouble to come. "Once you do outsourcing there is no accountability remaining," Nichols Pak council member George Franklin said. "If there is a problem there is no one you can call."

As it stands, park staff must move almost half of Nichols Park's 15 or so trash drums from the park's interior to its periphery where Waste Management's large garbage trucks can pick them up. During the summer, Waste Management is scheduled for six trash pick-ups per week. That means Nichols Park staff should be moving the 55-gallon trash drums 12 times a week.

"While there should be six trash pick-ups a week, we ar lucky if we get one or two," bistrow said. With two independent agencies responsible for different parts of the trash removal process, Bistrow said neither could ever be held to account. "It's a terrible system. It's doomed to failure," Bistrow said.

Waste Management spokesman Bill Blunkett said their trucks make all required pick ups. Some park district employees have privately applauded the switch saying the company had not met its contractual obligations. Officially the switch came about because Flood brothers offered the same service as Waste Management for less money, park district spokesman Michele Jones said. "For the most part, [the switch] was to manage more efficiently and cut costs," Jones said.

The same service is exactly what Bistrow is worried about. Unless the new $3 million contract. with Flood Brothers is changed the same problems of missed pick-ups and overflowing trash bins will continue to plague Nichols, Bistrow said. Responsibilities need to be clearly outlined at these smaller parks to account for interior garbage bins that are not directly accessible to large garbage trucks.

The park district did not reply to requests for comment on the new contract by Herald presstime. Chronic complaints from residents caused the parks-advocacy group Friends of the Parks (FOTP) to ask the park district to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on hiring companies to haul away trash. after a year, the group has yet to receive a study from the park district.

Nevertheless, Friends of the Parks said there are successes. After private firms began running park district-owned parking lots downtown and at Soldier Field services improved and revenue increased. FOTP president Erma Tranter, said. Letting private businesses run the district's harbors and golf courses has also benefited the park-goers and the taxpayer, Tranter said. "The area we have questioned is... picking up garbage," Tranter said.

Staff shrinkage and privatization

After three years of tight budgets and shrinking staffs, some raise concerns that parks' basic services and programming will be privatized next. "The park district better watch out for privatization because when it's all over they'll be privatizing supervisors and all the recreational providers," Washington Park Advisory Council President Cecilia Butler said.

Questions to park district officials about what if any positions could possibly be outsourced went unanswered by Herald presstime. But most parks advocates feel it would be unlikely these type of primary positions would ever be privatized.

Nonetheless, staffing shortages rank highly among advisory council members' concerns. "Staffing, Staffing, Staffing. that seems to be a common concern [tonight]," Mann Park Advisory Council member Mandy Medina told district officials during an August budgetary hearing for the Southeast Region.

Since 1993, the district has eliminated 1,900 full and part time positions. The 10901 budget more that halved staff hours at Promontory Point, slashed past-time hours for Kennicott and Kenwood Parks and completely cut two full-time Washington Park positions.

In the following year, four area parks lost $750,000 from their budgets. Most cuts came from personnel..

Early reports indicate that next year's $366 million budget will use staffing cuts, fee hikes and property tax increases to help make up a $10 million projected deficit.

[Note, budgets were considerably increased in 2006, but staff remains stretched thin. It is deployed from central headquarters. GO]

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Herald editorial, November 24, 2004: Talking trash

One thing Hyde Park is known for its beautiful parks. Harold Washington, Jackson, Nichols and Washington greet strollers, dog walkers, bikers and visitors with their lush vegetation, many gardens, walking paths and a wide assortment of trees. Hyde Park truly lives up to its name; it's one giant, pedestrian friendly, green neighborhood.

However, overflowing trash cans have too often been a feature of the otherwise beautiful parks. Waste often sits in the can for days rather than being routinely hauled away. This poses many problems, especially in regards to the spread of bacteria. The neighborhood's parks need to remain well kept on a daily basis.

The Herald is, therefore, happy to see that the Chicago Park District decided not to renew its contract with Waste Management, Inc. The national waste hauler has not shown itself to be responsible in hauling away trash in timely manner as stipulated in its contract. During the summer months, trash is supposed to be hauled away from local parks six times a week. But the Nichols Park [also the Spruce Park] Advisory Council, one of our park maintenance watchdogs, regularly pointed out that garbage trucks come around much less frequently.

Instead, the Chicago Park District entrusted its trash hauling to a much smaller firm, Flood Brothers Disposal and Recycling Services of Oakbrook Terrace. The company has a proven track record in the western suburbs and may come as a welcome relief to Hyde Park. The services come cheaper, too. Hopefully, the quality of service and accountability will not be compromised.

But at this point anything is better than decaying trash festering our neighborhood parks.

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At the February 2005 Nichols Park Council meeting, Trash Committee chair Van Bistrow reported that the number of cans is much closer to the 15 the park is supposed to have and that the cans are being emptied thoroughly and regularly, Tuesdays and Thursdays. True, the schedule calls for Monday, Wednesday, Friday and in the warm season will now be 7-day. Almost all the cans are the plastic ones with park district logo, now. The Council was assured that the park will be brought up to its full contingent of cans. Flood Bros. also has to be told that trucks are going the wrong way on one-way streets.

District officers will work to get the park district staff movement of cans going and coordinated. At the end of 2005 a park employee was designated to move cans.

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