All yard debris routes should be on schedule by the end of the week, interim Public Works Director John Peavy told members of the Mobile City Council Tuesday.
Councilors discussed concerns with what they call “trash” pickup during a pre-conference meeting. Peavy was on hand for an update during the regular meeting and took the blame for the delays in some areas.
The new leadership, he said, had attempted to make changes that didn’t work. In addition, he said, the department was facing manpower issues.
“I’m very confident that by this weekend, we’ll be caught up,” Peavy said. “We do need to be better permanently staffed.”
In all, Peavy said the department was about 20 employees short of its needs. Councilors Fred Richardson, C.J. Small and Council Vice President Levon Manzie offered to host job fairs in their districts to help recruit for positions.
To alleviate the burden, the city enlisted the help of Crowder Gulf to pick up some of the larger piles, Peavy said. Crowder Gulf would not be used as a subcontractor on a permanent basis, he said.
Chief Procurement Officer Don Rose told councilors the contract was on a short-term basis to help the department “catch up” on trash pickup.
This comes amid increased frustration among Public Works employees over complaints including harassment and low pay. A number of employees have referenced “the box,” which they described as a room for punishing supervisors who didn’t follow orders. The city has defended the practice, calling it a part of mandatory manual training.
Employees have told councilors the treatment from within the department has led to a number of earlier-than-expected retirements and caused manpower issues.
Former public works director Bill Harkins recently left the city for a job with McGill-Toolen Catholic High School. City spokeswoman Laura Byrne has previously said the timing of Harkins’ departure is coincidental.
In other business, the council tabled a license agreement with Ricky Breek Palacios to use the concession stands at Medal of Honor and Herndon-Sage parks to provide food and beverage services.
In the agreement, Palacios would pay the city $300 per month, per park, to rent the concession stands. Councilors had a number of issues with the agreement, including the price and the exclusivity of the deal.
Councilman John Williams said he was concerned the exclusivity of the agreement would prevent youth sports organizations from using concessions to fund their programs at the parks. He also said it could hurt local food trucks, which already provide concessions at some of the parks.
“I believe it ought to be open to all,” he said. “ … We should never take anything away from youth sports.”
Councilwoman Bess Rich agreed, saying she had concerns over the impact on youth sports, despite the agreement at Medal of Honor Park taking effect after the Cottage Hill Steelers finished their season.
“A youth soccer group might want in there as well,” she said.
Councilman Fred Richardson said the agreement wasn’t for enough money to make it worthwhile for the city, as the contractor would get to use city water and power at the stands.
“The city would lose money,” Richardson said. “That’s why we tabled it.”