Streets and San gets new commissioner, more workers

Tribune reporter

Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation will keep additional workers to fight rats and get more tree trimmers under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2013 budget.

The agency, with main responsibilities of clearing snow off the streets and collecting garbage from the alleys, is also getting a new commissioner, former deputy Police Supt. Charles Williams, the mayor’s office announced Saturday.

Emanuel will call for $2.2 million to be spent on hiring the equivalent of 41 new full-time workers to respond to tree trimming requests more quickly. And he wants to spend $1 million more treating city trees for pests and disease, so fewer of them will need to be removed or replaced at a higher cost, according to a mayoral spokeswoman.

The money will come from savings the city realized by switching to a grid system for garbage pick-up, and from competition between city employees and private companies, according to spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton.

In addition, a handful of Streets and Sanitation workers on disability, who were brought back to work this fall to put out rat poison in alleys after a Tribune report about a spike in rodent complaints this year, will remain on the job, Hamilton said.

After the Tribune reported the bumper crop of rats was due in part to a balmy winter that killed off fewer of them than usual, Emanuel said staffing on the rodent abatement teams wasn't the problem. “Only you and my mother think I can change the weather,” he said.

But he expects, by keeping the additional rodent workers on staff, to put out poison in 34 percent more alleys than would otherwise be possible.

Williams will replace Thomas Byrne, a Mayor Richard Daley appointee who has been asking out of the high pressure position at Streets and Sanitation since shortly after Emanuel took office.

“I'm just tired,” Byrne said. “I'm 64 years old, and winters are tough.”

Byrne will help Williams transition in, take some time off and then take over as head of security at the Chicago Park District.

He praised Emanuel for spearheading reforms in garbage pick-up and other city services at Streets and Sanitation by pushing for competition between the unions and contractors and work rule changes among the unionized city workers.

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