Streets and Sanitation workers on a garbage truck work in South Shore. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times file photo
A seasoned City Hall bureaucrat with a background in finance, administration and operations was chosen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday to be Chicago’s $157,092-a-year Streets and Sanitation commissioner.
John Tully replaces Charles Williams, a former high-ranking Chicago Police officer who came to the job of running the city’s third-largest department in 2012 with no experience in the nuts-and-bolts of snow removal or garbage collection.
Williams, 65, managed to learn on the job while executing what Emanuel calls the “most significant operational reform” in the department’s history: the switch from a ward-by-ward system for garbage collection to a grid system that saves time, money and crews.
Although aldermen resisted the change, Williams managed to pull off what the mayor’s office claims to be a $30 million efficiency.
The grid system has also allowed the city to claim it has eliminated its backlog for graffiti removal requests, dramatically reduced its backlog of tree trimming requests and now responds to complaints about Chicago’s burgeoning population of rats within five days.
Now, it’ll be Tully’s job to build on those reforms while finding an elusive solution to Chicago’s anemic recycling rate — 10 percent citywide and 4.5 percent on the Southeast Side.
In a press release announcing a changing-of-the-guard that was not unexpected at City Hall, Emanuel charged Tully with building on the previous reforms while “improving cart operations and finding new ways to fight rodents.”
The mayor’s 2018 budget will add five more rodent control crews — for a total of 30 — and provide $500,000 in additional funding to purchase more black garbage carts.
“John has worked side-by-side with Charles over the past several years to transform Streets and Sanitation into a department that provides faster, more efficient services for the residents of Chicago,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.
“I am confident he will continue pushing to find new ways to enhance the department’s operations.”
Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), a former deputy commissioner at Streets and San, said Tully is a terrific choice to confront the issues in a housekeeping department that can make-or-break the local alderman.
“When you have situations, like major snowstorms, experience is everything,” Zalewski wrote Wednesday in a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“John came up through the ranks. He’s well-respected. He will be a good commissioner. He’s steady. Knows operations like the back of his hand. He is also seasoned in dealing with the City Council.”
Tully, whose appointment must be ratified by the City Council, was quoted as saying he looks forward to “continuing to find new and innovative ways to optimize services.”
Tully has a masters degree in public service management and 35 years of experience in administration, operations and finance.
He worked on economic development for two Illinois treasurers before moving up through the ranks at Streets and San — from fiscal administrator to general superintendent, deputy commissioner of the Sanitation Bureau, managing deputy commissioner and first deputy commissioner.
Williams’ retirement is well-timed.
Chicago’s unseasonably warm November has allowed him to escape snow removal season, which can turn into long nights sleeping at Snow Command.
“I enjoyed the challenge. But at the same time, I certainly don’t mind missing it, either, as far as the winter goes,” Williams said Wednesday.
“Winter requires very long hours. And most snowstorms start about 2 in the morning.”
Williams said Tully’s biggest challenge will be finding a solution to Chicago’s chronic recycling problem without fining residents who refuse to recycle.
“I do not think penalizing people is the answer. It’s more of a huge campaign on information and getting the correct methodology out to the residents,” Williams said.
“Chicago has to improve that. It’s a must….I have no doubt that John Tully will be able to turn that [ten percent] number around.”
Williams urged his successor to remain open to new ideas to combat Chicago’s never-ending rat problem and to remain accessible–not just to aldermen, but to their constituents.
“I used to get calls at my desk on a regular basis from folks who had complaints. You have to make sure you’re attentive to those complaints,” the outgoing commissioner said.
Pressed to describe the advice he has given Tully when the snow starts to fall, Williams said, “Coffee. Lots of black coffee.”