BUCKHEAD COUNCIL OF NEIGHBORHOODS
Zoom Meeting: 6:00 – 7:00 pm
6:00 – 6:02 Debra Wathen – Chair
6:02 – 6:05 Gordon Certain, Secretary – Adoption of Minutes
6:05 – 6:10 Pat Labat, Fulton County Sheriff – Update and plans for Public Safety in the upcoming year
6:10 – 6:40 Al Wiggins, Jr., Commissioner of Public Works – Report on the Department of Public Works’ new plans and new approach to get and keep the Department of Public Works on track and improve the services we all receive.
6:40 – 7:00 A Few Words from our City Council Representatives
6:40 – 7:00 Post 2 At Large, Matt Westmoreland
6:40 – 7:00 Post 3 At Large, Keisha Sean Waites
6:40 – 7:00 District 8, Mary Norwood
6:50 – 7:00 Adjourn
Meeting Attendance Report
A total of 140 individuals were documented as participating in BCN’s January 2022 Board Meeting conducted online using Zoom.
Wish to contact Officials? Visit BCN’s https://buckheadcouncil.org/resources.
Debra Wathen – BCN Chair
Debra Wathen: It is 6:00, and if Mary taught me anything it’s we need to have a lot of respect for people’s time, so I’m going to try to do my best to keep up with that same philosophy at these meetings. I’m Debra Wathen. I don’t know if you all know me. I am the new Chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods and I owe Mary a great deal of thanks for bringing us to this point. I think we’re in great shape as an organization. I’m very excited to start the new year. So, Happy New Year everyone. We have a very busy meeting. It turns out that our new Mayor, Andre Dickens, has requested a few minutes of time in our meeting, which I’m very excited about. I am happy to hear what he has to say. At 6:10, he is going to log on. He has some important business going on at City Hall right now and will take a moment at 6:10 to speak to us.
I did want to let you know that I am working furiously on getting our website up to date. I have set up a new email address which is Chair@buckheadcouncil.org. I really want you to let me know anything that you’re concerned about. Just send me an email and I promise I’ll respond. I really want us to use the website as a useful tool.
We are going to postpone approving the minutes of our last meeting, and we’ll send those out to all the people who attended our last meeting. It was just the BCN Board, with neighborhood presidents, and BCN representatives. I hope to continue that tradition where we can get together as a Council and really see what issues are important to neighborhoods as well.
Sheriff Labat, are you on the call at this point in time.? I don’t see him.
While we wait for Sheriff Labat, I do want to let you know, some things that we did this year. Over the Christmas holidays, the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods contributed to the Zone 2 CAC holiday police appreciation initiative. As a result, every Zone 2 officer was given a $25 gift card to Chick-Fil-A. We’re really proud to have participated there. And in addition, in participation with Livable Buckhead, meals were delivered to all our firefighters. I consider those things to be incredibly important: that we support both our firefighters, and our police forces out there. And I hope you’ll agree that that was an important thing to do. I’m really happy about that.
One other announcement, the Citizens Police Academy is now accepting applications. I understood that this is an incredible experience where you can go and learn exactly what goes on in the police department and how things operate. I strongly encourage you to participate. And if you’re interested, VONTACT Elizabeth Espy at enespy@AtlantaGA.gov. she will send you an application and you can sign up. It’s nine weeks of classes on Tuesdays. It’s going to run from February 1st to March 29th. I’ve heard it’s well worth it. So, keep that in mind and think about attending. We’d love to see lots of folks from Zone 2 represented.
Amber Conner: I took the Citizens Police Academy class, and it is amazing, and I suggest you do the Sheriff’s academy as well. You learn a lot. You get to know the inner workings of the way things are done and it brings you a greater appreciation to those who serve in public safety.
Debra Wathen: Thank you Amber!
Councilmember Mary Norwood: Would you like me to quickly update people on the Public Safety Task Force?
Debra Wathen: That would be great.
Councilmember Mary Norwood: Okay, I introduced a resolution to create a Buckhead Safety Task Force to be set up in 90 days, very quick, It will have two groups: a Working Group and an Advisory Group. It has law enforcement from the state, the County and the City with the Sheriff and DA from the County, the GBI, and the Georgia State Patrol from the State, and the Police Department and the Police Foundation from the City. Each of the three NPU chairs has an appointment. Each of the three Council members 7, 8 and 9 have appointments, and then the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods has an appointment as do the Buckhead business organizations. It will be very much like we have done with BCN, where we have taken resolutions, and very quickly put them into good language and operationally taken them down to City Hall. It’s following that approach rather than a commission or a committee. A similar effort is Keisha Waites’, which will be introduced on Tuesday, which is a Citywide that commission that will also track Public Safety. The two will work hand in glove in getting better cooperation of State, County and City the way Councilmember Waites does doing the entire City as an At Large Councilperson.
Debra Wathen: Councilmember Waites, do you have something to add to that?
Councilmember Kiesha Waites: I was going to give the briefing. So, no, I think she covered everything.
Debra Wathen: Okay, thank you Mary. I just got word that the Mayor is two minutes away.
If Sheriff Labat is on, he could get started. And as soon as the Mayor is available we will let him address us.
Debra Wathen: Our City Council President Mr. Shipman is on as well. Do you have anything to add?
Council President Doug Shipman: Oh, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here in my new role of City Council President. I would just simply say that we have begun this week with committee meetings. As many of you know, committee appointments were made, and I think we’re off to a good start. Mary and Keisha both describe their ordinances. I mean, they’re their papers, but we also have a number of items related to city services that have already started across the Utilities Committee, as well as Finance and then of course, Transportation and other things related. I’m looking forward to working with you. Of course, the district representatives are always a great place to start but if there’s anything that my office can do, by all means, reach out. And I’d simply say it was also a pleasure to be in Buckhead Village today for the announcement of the new Precinct in Buckhead. Debra, I saw you there and some others. That will be fully operational this summer, so that’s a good step forward.
Debra Wathen: Thank you so much. That’s great. We’re so glad that you’re at the position you’re in and that we have these great City Council people that are looking after us already. Thank you so very much and I look forward to getting to know you better, as we all do.
And it’s 6:10 and hopefully, the Mayor is logging on as we speak.
Mayor Andre Dickens: Debra, I’m on.
Debra Wathen: You are, Okay, great.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens
Mayor Andre Dickens: Hi. Good afternoon, and well, good evening to everyone and Debra, thank you for allowing me a few moments to speak. And it’s good to see my fellow public servants here. I see Mary Norwood and Keisha Waites. Keisha Waites and I are actually in the same room – same building. We’re here at City Hall. I’m having a forum summit right now with a lot of nonprofit leaders that are trying to make sure that we have great activities and opportunities for young men of color. These organizations, about 75 of them, I brought into the atrium of City Hall. Yes, City Hall is open, and the lights still work. I’m testing it out so we can get the government, a bunch of workers, back to working. We’re working right now downstairs, coming up with solutions, to keep them active and progressing towards their career and life goals and to keep them out of trouble. And I see Doug Shipman here. And if I keep scrolling, I’m sure I’ll see Matt Westmoreland who is also in the same building with me today as we are working with the young men of Atlanta.
Anyway, I greet you and say hello on this very first BCN meeting of the year. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I know you often invite City Council members, but from time to time myself or a representative from this office would love to be a part of the conversation so we can hear the concerns, but also deliver answers and solutions. I also asked for a short list of things that I could do in the first hundred days and every two minutes on BCN Twitter is hitting me with things that I need to take a look at. I thank you all for sending all those in and we are logging them and categorizing them into transportation, into sanitation, into public safety so that we can begin to take action on them.
Today is the tenth day of my Administration. Today we opened up for everyone to see the space that will be for the Mini-Precinct in the Buckhead Village, right there at West Paces Ferry and Peachtree. And I’m just thankful for the business community, Cousins Properties, for allowing us to be there. I’ve gone on ride-alongs and roll calls in Zone 2, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work and serve Buckhead, as well as all of Atlanta. But this call is about Buckhead. I’m here to work with you all and, you know, make sure that you have a clean city, a safe city and one that’s thriving.
Debra, you have my information. It was good to see you out there today as well. Please call on me and call on my team to show up early and often. And for this Mayor and those City Council Members and our State Representatives, like Betsy Holland and Sonya Halperin, and so many others, we enjoy a great relationship and plan to continue to work together.
With that being said, I just thank you for this time and you know where to find me and I’ll be available to communicate with you and solve our City’s problems together.
Debra Wathen: Thank you so much for joining us. That’s really important that we hear from you. And I think people have really responded to the fact that you asked for our input, and I’ll keep on tweeting there. Lots of people are emailing me so I’m tweeting their emails out to you. I will continue to do that and thank you for asking and we look forward to being in a partnership with the Mayor’s Office.
Mayor Andre Dickens: Great. Thank you.
Councilmember Mary Norwood: And we will let you get back to your young people and organizations that are so important and thank you for doing that. It’s been a long day for you. I personally appreciate that you have brought in all those organizations, so many of whom I know, to really get them energized and make great progress. Our young people deserve it, our city deserves it, our citizens deserve it, so thank you, Mayor.
Debra Wathen: Wonderful. I really appreciate the mayor speaking to us. I think it shows that he is listening to us. And neighborhoods need to have a voice and we do. I feel honored that he took the time to let us know that he does care about us.
Let’s go onto to Sheriff Labat. If you’re available, we can get started.
Pat Labat, Fulton County Sheriff
Sheriff Labat: All right, so it is great to see everybody. It is good news on our end. I’m not sure what I’m coming across twice. There is an echo, but I will be quick. We have some really good news. As I promised, in the first six months of our administration, we have set up a Scorpion Unit, which is a crime suppression team.
That team, in the past six months, we’ve had 240 arrests, 165 felony warrants out of that piece, 650 traffic stops, nearly 30 guns seized. We’ve located 75 people that have been wanted. And specifically, what we’re doing up in Buckhead, we have partnered with you here with a couple people that you have already met. You’ve already met Major Bradford, Major Butler’s on, Colonel Pritchard I see. It is for us, we’re off to a wonderful start. One of the things was that our commitment was more than visibility, it was putting this crime suppression piece in place.
And I had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Dickens, as well as with Police Chief Rodney Bryan, on several occasions. I certainly applaud them for the new Buckhead Precinct. It also gives us a place to have a pit stop and really join forces. We will look at what we’ve been able to do with Major Senzer and his team, the FIT Team. We’ve had two details up in Buckhead that have yielded several stolen weapons.
We’re putting together a traffic unit here soon. That Traffic Unit will focus, much like the APD Ace Team, on not only those that are violating traffic laws, but we will help with street racing.
It’s a good day in Fulton County and in Buckhead. We want to make sure that we are equally as visible across the county.
I did have an opportunity, here recently, to meet with the North Fulton Chiefs Association, Their focus was Buckhead and North Fulton. There’s a lot of good things happening there. We are working with APD.
There’s a new project called Boosters for our business communities. It’s an efficient and economical way for them to add their cameras into a much larger network that will allow us to have instantaneous camera footage. And, again, we’re expanding our technology there and expanding our presence.
So, Debra, and certainly Councilmember Norwood, Congratulations again, and as always, I’m a phone call away for those things that we can help with. We really want to be thoughtful. I’m really excited about Major Butler and his team and we’ve activated our SWAT team. It’s pretty exciting for us.
Debra Wathen: Thank you so much, and we really appreciate those numbers because anybody out there fighting crime in Buckhead is A-Okay with us. Thank you very much for what you’re doing, and especially the way y’all have partnered with the Atlanta Police as well. I think it’s great. Thank you very much. Let us know what we can do to help you in any way.
Sheriff Pat Labat: Thank you so much. I look forward to it. I’m really excited. Hopefully, we’ll get back in person and we’ll be able to bring some of our leadership team so that you all know, we want to be a part of the community as a whole and that includes the leadership up in Buckhead. Thank you again, Debra for your leadership and certainly Councilmember Norwood. Thank you also for your leadership.
Debra Wathen: Thank you. And I want to keep things moving along. I’ve decided that it’s probably best to let all of our public officials that were going to speak, go ahead and speak. And then, we will have Commissioner Wiggins for the rest of the time we have him. So, Matt Westmoreland, who is our At-Large Councilperson. Can you say a few words to everybody?
A Few Words from our City Council Representatives
Councilmember Matt Westmoreland: Absolutely. Good evening everyone. My name is Matt Westmoreland. I hold the Post 2 At Large seat on Council. Just starting my fifth year. It was wonderful to see many of you this morning at the opening of the Mini-Precinct that we have mentioned, a couple of times already. A couple other pieces that were part of the conversation this morning: one was continuing our efforts with new recruitment classes. We set aside funding last July to hire 250 new officers during this fiscal year and that work is ongoing. And, secondly, the Mayor mentioned this morning that later on this spring we’re going to be opening up 50 units of housing for recruits as they go through the 26-week academy. In our efforts, parallel with raising pay, to make sure that we are recruiting and retaining the very best officers to join our force and to staff Mini-Precincts and Precincts alike.
Three other quick notes each related to committees that I will be serving on this year. One is on the Transportation Committee; we will be having a conversation over the next four or five months with the public about coming back around to a conversation around an infrastructure bond, transportation, public safety facilities, parks, and green space. The conversation that has already taken place has been very intentional as it relates to not over-promising and under-delivering. As we saw with the Renew and T-SPLOST 1.0 in 2015, and 2016, being candid and realistic about project schedules and the time that it’s going to take to complete projects. Also, being thoughtful about moving away from large expensive, shiny projects and very focused on the nuts and bolts of fixing infrastructure: streets, sidewalks, fire stations like Number 26 on Howell Mill, green-space expansion, and investments and ensuring that we have appropriate geographic representation for projects all across the city.
I suspect that will be a topic of conversation at a later meeting of BCN to dig deeper into the multitude of projects that would be coming Buckhead’s way if that is successful in May. And then two more. I’ll be serving on the Community Development Committee this year. We did not land the tree ordinance plan last year, but we are going to do it in the first part of 2022. I will be serving alongside members Norwood and Shook on the Zoning Committee as we pick back up with the message that we received loud and clear from the vast majority of NPUs around the city as it relates to how we have conversations about growth and density moving forward. So, I will put my email address and cell phone number in the chat. Please don’t ever hesitate to reach out and I appreciate the chance to share a couple of thoughts (Note that chat information from the meeting is no longer available. See our web page at https://buckheadcouncil.org/resources/ for contact information.).
Debra Wathen: Thank you so much, Matt. He is always accessible which is so wonderful. You call Matt Westmoreland you will probably get a response. We appreciate everything that you do for us.
I think it’s really important that we get to know our City Council representatives and Keisha Waites is one of our newest ones. We would love to hear from you again and see what you have on your mind for this upcoming year.
Councilmember Kiesha Waites: Wonderful. I want to thank you for the opportunity to come before you this evening. I know you have a lengthy agenda, so I will be brief. Councilmember Norwood has already articulated the work that we’re doing together. I’m very excited about that partnership. We are no strangers to one another. During my tenure at the Georgia House of Representatives, we worked in tandem on a number of initiatives: I think they were important for our entire city. I will be serving, thank you President Shipman, on the Finance Committee, Public Safety Committee, as well as Transportation. Three areas of interest to me that I’m very, very excited about. And finally, I would say to you, that constituent service is extremely important to me as well as improving the delivery and efficiency of city services. All things that the Mayor has already articulated. I want to make sure you have my contact information and simply convey that I am a full partner invested. I was in Buckhead this morning for the unveiling of the new precinct, which I’m very excited about. As all of us know, Buckhead has a very robust nightlife and certainly there was a need for that additional support. I know my good friend Beth Beskin is on the line. We serve together down at the State Capitol; and so, hello to you as well. I look forward to working with each of you.
I’m going to continue to join Mayor Dickens downstairs as we find solutions to some of the challenges we’re facing, such as the Water Boys crisis and so forth. I look forward to getting to that business and look forward to working with each of you, and you will be seeing me frequently.
Debra Wathen: Thank you. Thank you, Councilmember Waites. I really appreciate that you all are down there working on such an important issue to all of us and for all of those young children. So hopefully y’all will find a solution. Thank you very much, and we look forward to working with you.
Councilmember Kiesha Waites: Again, thank you so much for the invitation.
Debra Wathen: You’re welcome. We will do it again, for sure. Great. Mary do you have anything else you would like to add? No? if you’re good then I think we’re ready for our Commissioner of Public Works, Mr. Al Wiggins. He and I have had some conversations in the past and I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at this new commissioner. I think he came on in March, and he can tell me if that’s correct. He walked into a hornet’s nest and let’s hear from him and he can let us know what he is doing to try to remedy the situation.
Al Wiggins, Jr., Commissioner of Public Works
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Good afternoon again, Miss Debra and BCN members. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide an update on the state of the Department of Public Works. More importantly, the state of curbside collection services. Before I begin this, I would like to introduce my team. And so let me back up here. I guess I need to share my screen. And show I do have a presentation for you tonight. Unfortunately, I was not able to send that presentation to Debra because I thought It was going to be pretty crafty and make my own notes on my presentation as she transitions through the slides. So please bear with me because I’m going to have to move two different presentations at the same time. And so, it’s not if I make an error, it’s when I make an error. Are you able to see my screen?
Debra Wathen: We can.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Okay. Again, like to provide a brief overview of the department and also would like to start by introducing a few key members of my team. I’m Al Wiggins, the Commissioner of Public Works. Although I’m new to the City of Atlanta, I’ve been in this business for a little bit over 20 years in various roles, most recently, City Manager of Forest Park and Assistant City Manager of the City of Chamblee. All of the cities that I’ve worked for all surrounded the City of Atlanta and have been contiguous with the city. I did come in with somewhat of an understanding of the challenges that the Department of Public Works faces. We also have Deputy Commissioner Keith Robinson who came to the Department of Public Works from the Mayor’s Office of Innovation. I am very excited about having him on board. He actually came a little bit before I came on board with the city. He has really been instrumental in helping us to evaluate our processes and look at our service level agreements and making sure that we collect the data that we need to run the department a little bit more efficiently. We also have Anousorn Sothsavath. If you’re looking at the spelling of his name, that’s why we call him DC-Anew. It’s a little bit challenging to pronounce his name fluidly, but we’re very proud that he has come on board. He came on board early December. He also has an extensive background, much like Deputy Commissioner Robinson, in the private sector in project management. He also has an IT background, which will be instrumental in helping us vet our software systems needed to route our vehicles. And he also has Public Works experience, which is obviously important as well.
Jere’s a brief overview of the department. You see our department’s mission. Just to summarize our department’s mission, our goal is to make sure that we provide a high quality of life for the residents of the city of Atlanta in a sustainable way. The Department of Public Works is comprised of three offices: the Office of the Commissioner, the Office of Solid Waste, which is the largest division of Public Works, and Office of Fleet Services, where we provide Vehicle maintenance for the entire city fleet.
We’ll transition over to the next slide. Here you will see a map. The map just illustrates the area of Buckhead in comparison to some of our transfer station and our sites. If you see the dump truck to the far north of the map, that’s our James Jackson Park Parkway yard debris processing facility. To the far south in the Austell area is our transfer station. And we also utilize another transfer station that’s down south in the city of East Point for solid waste as well. So the two sites on the south side of our solid waste transfer stations and to the north is our yard debris processing site. I thought it was important to show you that because, for our solid waste, we spent a significant amount of windshield time, ferrying solid waste to the south side of town. And so we’re looking at acquiring or partnering with other waste Management organizations so that we could run operations a little bit more efficiently and get our solid waste into two areas within the city strategically.
The next slide that you’ll see is a map. It just shows Buckhead in correlation to other areas of the city where you see the SA-5, that’s Service Area 5, and that’s Buckhead. And Buckhead is a great example of the participation level for recycling and yard trimmings. Obviously, our goal was to divert as much solid waste from the landfill as possible. If you look at Buckhead in comparison to the rest of the city, Buckhead’s garbage disposal is less than other parts of the city because of your participation in recycling and our yard trimmings program.
If you look at the map in the center, you’ll see that Buckhead processes about 2,700 tons of recycling. And on the south side, you will see that there is a little bit over 1,700 tons. And so, this map is just a representation; I think this is a quarterly report. So it’s not an annual representation of the actual tonnage disposed. And you’ll see the same thing to the map to the far right that’s green in color. You see that Buckhead does dispose a significant amount of yard debris. Also, Councilman Shook, during our CDC meeting, asked to provide the unit cost for the disposal of each of the items that we collected curbside. You see that solid waste comes in at second and yard waste, which is the least expensive of all three, and recycling comes in at $75 a ton. Our tonnage as a city, as it relates to recycling, is a little bit more than most municipalities because we have a unique setup that we collect glass, which, of course, will increase the amount of tonnage for our recycling program.
Okay, just to make sure that we’re all tracking together, the slide that you currently see is it a Herby-Curby and has the title Departmental Challenges.
Moving on to our challenges, which is I believe that what most of you want to hear from me tonight, and what my plan is to address what these challenges are. Just a quick summary: back on December 20th we really began dealing with the onset of the recent Omicron variant, which was not a red flag during that time. So on the 20th, I believe, we had a little bit over 20 employees that were out due to Covid. And each day we started to experience an exponent of the previous day. And about a week later, we had well over 150 employees department- wide that were out due to Covid related illnesses. Which obviously, brought our operation down to its knees. To provide perspective to that number, we need at least 180 people a day to assist with curbside collection. Although that number is 150 department-wide, we had up to 100 solid waste employees that were out due to Covid-related illnesses. And again, we need at least 180 folks to assist us with Citywide curbside collections. Hopefully, that number provides, some perspective, as it relates to our challenges with collecting all three items at curbside, Citywide. And really that forced us to focus on their collection of trash exclusively.
So as of today, our staffing position has improved. We are experiencing slight increases each day, but until we are able to get to our normal staffing levels, you know, trash again is our priority. However, we are still collecting yard debris. We’re still collecting recycling as attendance allows. So those services have not been suspended. They are handled when we’re able to complete our trash collections. And after our normal shift, we offer paid overtime to our Solid Waste workers. They work into darkness during the week to collect recycling and on the weekends we do the same.
And so, I got into a little bit of trouble earlier this week, during the CDC, when I mentioned that Buckhead had more crews that were allocated for recycling. And the reason for that is because the disposal of recycling in Buckhead and the surrounding communities is much more. Therefore, we have to allocate more crews to that area to make sure that we can collect all of the recycling before the conclusion of each day is the reason behind that. You may have seen the story on Fox 5 last night that addresses my statements. And there was some focus and I wanted to make sure that I provided some clarification there because if not explained, the objection would be that Buckhead was receiving some level of preferential treatment. So that’s the methodology behind the way we collect recycling.
Our next slide shows our next approach: Our Multi-Step Approach to Addressing Staffing issues. So, the next question is, I’ve explained the challenges that we have had and I’m sure your question is, okay well now, what is your plan? We really began preparing for this early on this year, beginning this summer. I am working with the Chief Operating Officer. We increased our staffing by 25% and we really did this in short order, over a 45-day period. We have also hired a service delivery manager. That position will work with ATL311 but will be assigned to the Department of Public Works for the purpose of ensuring that complaints that are received, that we provide updates to our residents via email, or even via telephone call if necessary. And to make sure that the cases are actually closed out before the case is closed out in the system, making sure that the cases have been properly resolved before they have been closed out in the system.
That position will also use data that we collect from calls to identify areas of town, possibly to where they may be clusters in town, where there may be a particular issue or category of complaint that occurs in certain areas more than others and really using that position to collect data and leverage it in the way that we could provide the service in a timely and efficient manner.
We also hired two landscape firms. Both landscape firms are owned by actual Buckhead residents, and they have come with the tremendous help by collecting yard trimmings. Both of those companies work in the Buckhead area and the surrounding areas. And that was strategic, because again, Buckhead has the highest level of yard debris for disposal. We strategically placed them there so that we could beef up our resources to meet the demand. We also have city employees working in Buckhead along with the two landscape firms, strengthening our workforce. We also reassign Personnel from other divisions within the Department of Public Works to the collection divisions from our special operations side of the house. That was one of our plans that we implemented earlier this year. We also arranged for emergency on-call staffing agreements with four different staffing agencies. During our initial conversations, they were very confident that they would be able to provide us with the staffing that we needed should we experience another outbreak and have staffing issues.
And when we began to have staffing issues, we immediately reached out to them. And during the initial conversation they were still very confident that they would be able to provide us with the staffing that we needed. Yet, shortly after that, they called us and explained that they were experiencing the very same challenges with staffing and finding laborers to assist us with curbside collection. Out of the four emergency staffing agencies, we have only been able to get eight laborers to date. We did receive a call today that we would probably be able to get an additional 15 employees this coming Tuesday, but our goal was to have at least 50 additional employees that would be able to assist us with curbside collections.
I would also like to go back to the landscape firms that are assisting us with collecting yard debris. We initially put out another contract for emergency assistance, for the collection of yard debris and we did not receive any responses. Primarily because the difficulty of the private sector determining the profitability of providing a service. Because yard debris comes in various forms and sizes, they can’t predict how much it would cost to collect. We just could not gain any interest. And that’s why, when we engage the landscape firms during a slower time of the year knowing they probably would be interested, because they have employees that were gainfully employed during the summer that we could keep busy during that time. And so it worked out well for us that they were interested in partnering with the city on this effort.
With the staffing agencies, we’ve had difficulties with finding staffing agencies that were willing to allow their employees to ride on the back of the truck; it’s a huge occupational hazard and we did not get very much interest because of that reason. I asked staff to respond and make it very clear that it was one of the requirements of providing a service. We reached out and reviewed existing relationships that we had with staffing agencies, and we were able to get these four staffing agencies on board. Although they had these staffing challenges, it gave us an alternate plan; or so we thought earlier on in summer.
Again, this is our multi-step approach to addressing these issues moving forward. Let me go back to the incentive pay offered by the Mayor and Council. This is an attendance-based incentive that requires the employees to be here to actually receive the pay. We also ensure that vaccines were readily available to our work force. We put on several vaccination events and even offered a financial incentive to boost participation.
And last but not least, we purchased a few vehicles that do not require a commercial driver’s license to operate. As you know, there’s a national shortage of commercial drivers. It’s very difficult for us to recruit drivers, especially when the pay is so competitive, and we were competing with the Amazons of the world and the over-the-road-drivers. Not only that, but they were also offering daily incentives: daily cash incentives which is difficult for us to do in local government because of some of the gratuitous calls law. So again, we were trying to find ways to be proactive and in the most creative way.
And honestly, we felt very comfortable going into this season and being prepared for an outbreak. I don’t know of anything that we should have done that we haven’t. If I were able to go back in time, I can’t think of anything else that we could have done to prevent this problem of our current staffing issues.
Going on to the next step; what are we doing now? As of yesterday, we were able to provide 100% coverage of all of our services, yard debris, recycling and solid waste collections. Although we still haven’t reached our normal staffing levels, we have double crews around that have allowed us to collect all of the services as scheduled Citywide. But our strategy is to address the areas that are furthest behind first. We’re getting closer by the day to getting back on schedule. Based on our current staffing levels, if the current trajectory continues, we anticipate by Monday January 31st we will be able to resume regular operations and collect all three curbside collection items. So that is what we think, at this point again, based on attendance and our current staffing trajectory, that we will be able to comfortably resume during that time. We would like to under-promise and over-deliver as Councilmember Westmoreland said.
So, what we’re doing in between now and then is to address the standing debris left at curbside. We ask that you continue to leave your recycling carts at curbside if you still have recycling left for collectoin. We are again continuing to work through night, up into darkness and throughout the weekend to make sure that we get back on schedule.
And once our situation stabilizes, our first order is to implement technology that will allow us to record information. In our current position, we do have a vehicle routing software program, which is actually a very good program, that just does not work well for the City of Atlanta. My team along with our IT professionals, have in-place criteria that we need for a software program based on what works for the City of Atlanta. Most recently, we went to the city of Grand Rapids to view their software system. We will not purchase a software system until we see it work in a real-world application and observe their back-office operations. And there has been some discussion about the City considering a pay-as-you-go system. And we also investigated that thoroughly with the city of Grand Rapids. So technology is the key for us to not return to these types of problems in the future, through the use of technology, I think we could get close to the plan to anticipate our staffing needs and our daily allocation of crews, and our resources. And again, the software program and the use of other technology will certainly help with that, and automation is a key as well.
You’ve probably noticed in certain areas of town, where we have trucks that are able to collect trash cans with a single operator. And the majority of Buckhead perfectly suitable for us to do that. We are in the process of conducting or beginning a Citywide evaluation of where we could use these trucks most efficiently. In some areas of town, it’s just very difficult because the density of the area and the occurrences of on-street parking, and sometimes overhead power lines could be a hinderance for us running, this type of vehicle. And so we want to properly vet the use of these vehicles. The benefit of using the vehicles is that it reduces the workforce by up to 66%. The standard configuration for our regular garbage trucks is one driver and two laborers. And so this will allow us again to reduce our staffing needs which would really help us out in instances like our current situation with the Omicron outbreak.
The last thing for me is that we just ask for your patience. I will be the first to admit that DPW had issues from a management perspective that needed to be addressed before the pandemic occurred and that falls squarely on my shoulders as a Commissioner, and I take full responsibility for that. I just want to make sure that we keep our employees encouraged. We have hard-working employees that have been with the city for years. And one thing that we have not really discussed publicly is that, in this current environment where folks are very anxious and at times a little angry, we have had at least three occurrences where our crews have had firearms brandished and where folks have just basically pulled guns on our sanitation workers out of frustration. So I am very careful about where that energy and frustration is channeled. It should be channeled directly towards me. Although I did come in the middle of the pandemic, the current state of the Department of Public Works falls squarely on my shoulders. We were making great strides and we had momentum behind us, and I absolutely hate using Covid as a reason because it sounds like an excuse, but it is the absolute truth. We can do a lot of things, but we can’t manufacture people.
Debra Wathen: Commissioner Wiggins, we really appreciate all the effort that you have put into trying to fix this. And we understand that Covid is an issue. I wanted to give our viewers have a chance to ask you a couple of questions. For one, when do you think you will be caught up with all the neighborhoods in Buckhead, picking up recycling? I mean, people have stated that there are some areas, like the Peachtree Battle Haynes Manor area, has not been touched in three weeks. When do you perceive getting caught up?
Commissioner Al Wiggins: So I’m confident with saying, again, with our current pace of employees returning, back to the office, is that we will be able to resume regular services and have the Buckhead area cleaned up by the 31st of January.
Debra Wathen: That’s good news. And someone is asking about glass and that is a big question. Is glass being recycled or is it not?
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Yes. Yes, glass is collected with our recycling, and it is accepted by our materials recovery facility.
Debra Wathen: If anybody has some, some additional questions, we can put them in the chat. I know that there are people who are interested in the lawsuit, and you told me that you really can’t address it because it is ongoing at this point in time. But can you just make a statement about what is going on with that lawsuit?
Commissioner Al Wiggins: The lawsuit is still pending. Some of the things that triggered the lawsuit are still part of our practice. You know, I have to be very careful about how I word this. And so the lawsuit will still be outstanding until a new rate structure is established. And that’s pretty much where we are.
Debra Wathen: And we don’t have a timeline for that, or do we have an estimate?
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Yeah, that would be entirely up to elected officials as to how they decide to move forward with vetting the proposed rate structure.
Council President Doug Shipman: Commissioner Wiggins, Debra. This is Doug Shipman, and I can address that briefly if you like.
Debra Wathen: That would be great.
Council President Doug Shipman: Councilman Howard Shook, District 7, is the Chair of Utilities Committee. At the committee meeting this week, he and Councilmember Hillis from District 9 were outlining that the goal of the new rate structure adoption would be no later than the adoption of the new budget cycle. So that would be basically, by June. So, over the next few months, you’ll see that under discussion and the goal is to basically have a new rate structure in place for the next fiscal year.
Debra Wathen: Great, thank you. Does anybody else have any other questions, specific questions? I appreciate the fact that you’re looking into new software that will track the trucks. I think that’s going to be an important factor. And you had mentioned to me about overstaffing. Is that still a plan that if you need 180 you might want to staff a little higher than that?
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Yes, that that is a very good question. The COO’s office has approved us to move up to 220 employees. And so that was actually done again prior to the outbreak. We have 40 employees for the Department of Public Works that are in the pipeline for hiring. So with the assistance that were receiving from the staffing agencies, that return of the employees coming to the office and the onboarding of the additional 40 employees, department wide I think we will be in a pretty good situation over the next few weeks.
Libby Deargiver: Debra, this is Libby Deargiver of Peachtree Park. And I would just like to say to Commissioner Wiggins that we have noticed a great difference in our services.
Speaking for the neighborhood, but especially myself, in general we have followed the guidelines put forth and left our cans on the street Sunday morning, bright and early. The recycling guys cruise through our neighborhood and all of our recycling was picked up. Our yard debris has been picked up on a regular basis and it was by the private companies that Commissioner Wiggins mentioned. And if your yard debris is in leaf bags and you’ve kind of done your part to help out and make sure that the bags are intact, they’re getting picked up. If they’re in plastic garbage cans that people use and write “yard debris” on the front, they’re not getting picked up by the private companies because they don’t have anywhere to put it. They can’t just dump it in the back of a pickup. So, we’re seeing a significant difference in services. And I thank you for that.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Thank you.
Debra Wathen: Anyone else have any questions?
Councilmember Mary Norwood: Commissioner, I’m reading a comment here and this is one that I’ve heard about four years. This lady says, how could glass work for recycling when it breaks and contaminates the recycling, making separation, very difficult. I think we all want to know if you feel glass is something that you should be doing and you have a way to handle it, we want to do that. If you as the Commissioner, say, we need to switch and not include that in recycling then please let us know because the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods can get information out to 100,000 of your residents very quickly to help you whichever way you decide to go.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Yes, ma’am. And I’m not prepared to stay in a vacuum, if it’s good or bad. I would like to give an explanation of the challenges that are presented by introducing glass into our recycling program. Weight is an issue. As you mentioned, the glass breaks, and our trucks aren’t really designed to keep those glass shards inside of the vehicle. Part of the problem is that we have glass on the street regardless of how much we try to contain it. And There are a few other issues that we need to consider. But for me, my job is to provide the service that is asked of me, and I would just like to kind of give the pros and cons of providing adding glass into the recycling.
Councilmember Mary Norwood: Well, just let us know when you’re ready to make it definitive and we can get that word out: don’t do your glass or do your glass. There are other places that do take glass. We all know Charm takes glass. Other places in town take glass. So we just want to help you do the very best work that you can do. So we stand ready to help you.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Yes, ma’am. Much appreciated.
Debra Wathen: Very true! And this morning from Mary Norwood’s office. I received a list of neighborhoods that you were going to pick up recycling in. Are you going to continue to send that out on a regular basis till you get caught up? Because I think it’s helpful.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Yes, and we will send that out in a daily report. We’re also going to set up an FAQ page on our website to address many of the questions that we receive as well and we’ll put those on the Solid Waste App in addition to the website.
Debra Wathen: Wonderful. All right. Looks like we are five minutes over Commissioner Wiggins. Thank you so much for filling us in on what you’ve been doing to try to keep the whole situation on track and given us a little explanation of why you’ve been behind. I really appreciate it. We hope that the whole Covid situation does clear up quickly and that you can get your staff back up.
Councilmember Mary Norwood: When we turned in all our requests, a third of them were crime. A third of them were strict condition of streets and a third of them were trash. You’re in the top three.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Well, we are definitely going to do our part to eliminate those issues.
Debra Wathen: Feel free to keep us up to date on any other changes and we’ll try to keep the neighborhoods also informed on any changes that happened within the Department of Public Works.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: Yes, ma’am. Will do.
Debra Wathen: Anybody else? If not… Susan, I see you’re waving, but you’re muted.
Susan Kreuger: Yeah, I was going to, and we can relate this to the Commissioner. He was a talking about the way 311 interacts with the public works department. And I’m wondering if he can address the idea that when you call 311 with a Public Works problem, as soon as they relay it to Public Works. They call it case closed. And the ID number becomes moot because it’s a closed case. So it becomes virtually impossible to continue tracking.
Commissioner Al Wiggins: So that’s a very good question and it was a major part of me creating this position. And we had situations or occurrences where a case had not been resolved and it was closed in the system and that was due to a communication issue between 311 and our administrative offices and the installations, the collection substations. Our service delivery manager will have personnel that work in these substations that communicate with the supervisors that are performing at work. And we’re also performing audits of cases that have been signed off in the system to make sure that they have been properly signed off. So currently, Deputy Commissioner Robinson has a team that is going to conduct site visits, basically, to ensure that the cases have been properly resolved.
Susan Kreuger: Thank you, Commissioner.
Debra Wathen: And I will tell you from my tweeting to the Mayor, who says he is reading then, thank goodness, that the 311 issue has been brought up several times. So hopefully that’ll be addressed from a city standpoint because it is frustrating to get it closed out, only to find out that you know, a work order has been sent over.
All right everybody. Please contact me. If you have any other questions or issues or suggestions of things that we need to address for you. And thank you for being here on our first meeting. Our next meeting, for sure, will be on March 10th, and I hope to see you all back then and if we need to have a meeting between now and then, if an issue arises, then we will get those that information out to you. And if you’re not getting our regular emails, then please go to BuckheadCouncil.org and on our resources page there’s a place you can sign up to be added to that email list. Thank you all. I appreciate your time, and I hope you learned something tonight. And we will see you in a month or so. Thank you.
Secretary’s Notes: These minutes were prepared by BCN’s Secretary Gordon Certain, with lots of help from Debra Wathen and Sue Certain.
Note that some presenter statements have been reworded to improve clarity or for brevity.
An amazing online software tool marketed by Sonix.ai was employed in the preparation of these minutes. Sonix’s app generates a word-for-word rough draft text transcript from the audio from Zoom recordings. The initial transcripts are challenging since the app has a limited understanding of sentences, paragraphs, spelling, and punctuation. Thankfully, once the initial transcript is prepared, Sonix allows an editor to replay the video while editing the transcript’s text, pausing, and rewinding along the way, as needed.