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Daley's street-sweeping plan creates dust-up

posted Apr 8, 2010, 9:46 AM by Chicago's 20th Ward

Mayor Richard Daley envisions efficiency in cutting the city's street-sweeping force, but restive City Council members see only the further erosion of control in their wards before they face voters next year.

Instead of one sweeper for each of Chicago's 50 wards that's largely at the disposal of each alderman, Daley wants 33 sweepers to scrub equal-sized portions of the city.

Many aldermen bashed the mayor's plan Tuesday, when they gathered to shoot the breeze after a committee meeting. Mostly, they fretted that yet more power will be centralized under Daley when they're the ones held responsible for the condition of local streets.

"Some wards need more work; mine is one of them," said Ald. Willie Cochran, 20th, who said he often dispatches the sweeper to messy areas brought to his attention by residents of his South Side ward. "I want to keep control of that sweeper."

Other aldermen said it's a significant change that could upset their constituents less than a year before elections are held for all 50 City Council seats and the mayor's office. In Chicago, an alderman's ability to deliver services -- whether it's a new garbage bin, a tree trim or graffiti removal -- can go a long way toward success at the polls.

But during Daley's tenure, City Hall has consolidated many services, a trend accelerated in the late 1990s when the mayor created the 311 non-emergency call center.

In recent years, aldermen have squawked when they perceived that Daley's actions would anger their residents, even as tight budgets have stretched services thin at City Hall and across the city.

City Council members restored funding for the popular jumping-jack program, which provides trampoline-like contraptions for children at neighborhood events. Aldermen protested, and prevailed, when Daley slowed side-street plowing to save money. And they have balked at Daley's proposal to allow his inspector general to investigate aldermen.

But Daley said the street-sweeping plan, announced to aldermen Monday by Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne in private sessions, would increase efficiency across the city while also saving money.

"If this side is one ward -- of the street -- and that's the other side, we can only street clean one side one day and the other the other day," Daley said. "Now you clean both at the same time."

Under the new system, streets in wards that are geographically smaller would get swept less often than they are now, while streets in larger wards would be cleaned more often.

But sweeping would be done more equally across the city, with each street swept on average once every seven weeks, said Matt Smith, department spokesman. In any given day, the sweepers will cover 198 miles, rather than the 200 miles a day now swept.

Daley said sweepers would still respond to requests for special attention made by ward superintendents, who work for streets and sanitation but report to aldermen.

The remaining 17 street sweepers would be kept in reserve, in case others broke down, to ensure 33 are on the streets at all times, Smith said. Drivers now assigned to sweeping would be shifted to garbage collection, where drivers sometimes fall short as Byrne continues to address a large number of workers who are out sick, on disability or otherwise not on the job, Smith said.

But aldermen, for the most part, are more worried about their new role after the changes.

"Planning is a major part of whatever you do," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th. "Who sits down and plans, makes sure everybody is consulted in this process? You don't want to get planned out of the process. That's what we're very concerned about."

--Hal Dardick and John Byrne

From Chicago Breaking News Center, March 23, 2010.

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