Sep. 23—Possible fees for collecting apartment debris, backups caused by COVID-19 and the need for more garbage trucks and staff were among the issues candidates for Decatur's Environmental Services director said the department is facing in interviews Wednesday.
However, the possibility of reopening the application period to seek additional applicants with solid waste experience will likely be part of the discussion about the interviews at Monday's City Council work session.
The council and Mayor Tab Bowling interviewed two city employees with managerial duties, Allen Stover of Community Development and Reginald "Kip" Carter of Environmental Services, and Christopher Howell, a Decatur native who is a former county engineer.
Rickey Terry, who helped with the interviews, plans to retire Sept. 30 as Street and Environmental Services director. The advertised pay range is $70,854 to $107,813 annually.
Terry's announced retirement prompted a departmental reorganization. The Street division will move under City Engineer Carl Prewitt, and he will continue to answer to Director of Development Dane Shaw. The person hired as Environmental Services Department director will oversee the Sanitation division and the city maintenance garage.
Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin said she planned to email the council members, Terry and Bowling and ask them to discuss the search at Monday's work session.
Council President Jacob Ladner and fellow council members Kyle Pike and Carlton McMasters said they are willing to consider reopening the search but they want to hear what the other council members think.
McMasters had suggested at last week's work session that they should seek more applicants, but the other council members wanted to interview the three chosen applicants.
"I'm not saying definitively either way," McMasters said. "However, we do owe it to our residents to interview more than two candidates. I'm curious to hear what everybody else says."
Pike said reopening the search is a possibility but a decision needs to be made quickly with Terry's last day just a week away.
"We don't need to kick this down the road too far," Pike said. "We need to move on making a decision."
Ladner said the two internal candidates "did a great job" in the interviews, but he was disappointed in the quality of the applications from outside the city. He suggested the city needed to make the advertisement clearer so more people with solid waste experience would apply.
Howell, a civil engineer by training, was among the three out of 13 applicants to get an interview because he was the only outside candidate with solid waste experience, Ladner said.
"I'm open to what the council wants to do," Ladner said. "It's definitely a tough decision to deliberate because I think both internal candidates could do the job, but the city deserves the best choice."
Ladner compared it to the Auburn football team's situation at quarterback.
"Bo Nix can do the job, but I would like someone who is a little better," Ladner said.
Bowling said he's opposed to reopening the search. Instead, he would like for the council to let him talk to Stover and Carter and then let him make a recommendation on who to promote.
"I don't think reposting right now is the best thing for the city," Bowling said. "I'm afraid we'll get into another cycle like we did after Wally Terry left that we can't get out of."
Wally Terry retired as director of development in April 2020. The city went through four application periods before and after his retirement before finally hiring Dane Shaw as his successor in May.
Councilman Billy Jackson, who called in to participate in the interviews, said he remains of the opinion that Street and Environmental Services should stay together, either as one department or under City Engineer Carl Prewitt.
"There's a reason that the two were together for so long," Jackson said. "They just work together, and this is an opportunity to save $120,000."
Ladner, McMasters and Pike said the internal candidates had contrasting strengths and weaknesses.
Stover, 55, is in his 22nd year with Community Development, focusing mainly on grant writing and management, but he's never served in Environmental Services.
Starting as a garbage truck driver, Carter, 50, has worked his way up through Environmental Services and is now in his 26th year with the city. However, he's had little to no experience with the department's budgets.
"I do like Kip's story of working his way up from garbage truck driver to manager," Ladner said. — Staffing shortage
Carter and Rickey Terry said the most immediate issue facing Environmental Services is the department is short-handed because six employees are out sick with COVID-19 so the loader trucks are behind in picking up debris like limbs, mattresses and old furniture.
The department has 20 employees out on trucks picking up garbage and debris. It usually runs six garbage trucks a day and four loader trucks Tuesdays through Fridays on 10-hour shifts.
Monday is usually the day that the garage does truck tune-ups and repairs. Carter said he's had to take drivers off the loader trucks and put them on the garbage trucks to cover for the employees who are out sick.
"Garbage is always the priority," Carter said.
Rickey Terry said they planned to run a loader truck shift on Monday, but the heavy rain ended those plans. They now plan to run a half-day shift on Saturday and possibly another shift on Monday. — Apartment fee?
Stover and Carter said another major problem is apartment complex residents leaving big debris on the road. Apartments have to pay for garbage to be picked up by a private company, but no one is picking up their debris, Stover said.
"Community Development ends up sending apartments a notice but then it's never picked up," Stover said. "The large items get into the ditches and cause flooding. It's a real problem."
Stover said he found out in a discussion with Rickey Terry that "there needs to be some accountability." Stover said apartment complex landlords should have to pay a fee.
Carter suggested charging a $2 fee per apartment. He also said some homeowners put out too much debris, and it's not unusual for the homeowner to claim the debris when it was created by a private contractor. The city charges private contractors for hauling away debris they create.
Carter said the city should consider a maximum amount it would haul. For example, there would be a charge if there's more than 10 cubic yards of debris.
Stover said other cities opened central compounds where people could bring their items, especially since the Morgan County Regional Landfill isn't a good place for small vehicles and single-axle trailers.
"They just have to show a proof of residency," Stover said.
Carter said the city could also begin requiring residents to bag grass clippings. This would save time for the loader trucks and end flooding issues the loose grass often creates.
He said sanitation also needs another garbage truck. Initially, it would serve as a backup but more city growth could put it into ongoing action, Carter said.
Stover and Carter said the department is facing a staffing shortage. Stover suggested providing incentives so more employees will earn their commercial driver's license.
Carter said the employees' starting pay needs to increase so the jobs are more competitive with other employers. He said they also need to do a better job of promoting the value of employee benefits.
"A lot of guys stay here longer because of the benefits," Carter said.
Howell, 42, said he was born in Decatur and grew up in Hartselle where his parents still live. He was public works director for the town of Eutaw, assistant county engineer in Hale and Pickens counties and Fayette County's county engineer. This last job ended in December 2019. He now lives in Northport and does engineering consulting.
He said his most significant solid waste job was in Hale County, where he oversaw garbage pickup for 12,000 people and managed a $2.2 million budget, from 2003 to 2018.
Councilman Hunter Pepper was absent.
— firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.