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  • Last modified 2265 days ago (July 11, 2012)

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Talking trash about city government

Isn’t it wonderful that City Administrator Doug Kjellin, just in time for his performance review, was able to respond to complaints and restore twice-weekly trash pickup?

Dig deeper into the garbage pile of Marion politics and you’ll find that Kjellin not only overstepped his authority but also based his action on flawed data and the type of bureaucratic blindness that keeps Marion from being able to afford needed improvements.

Ignore whether twice-weekly residential trash pickup is needed. Every other comparable city in the area picks up trash only once a week, but what’s more interesting is how Marion changed its pickup schedule.

When Marion shifted to once-weekly pickup last year, it required not merely a vote of the City Council but also publication of a new ordinance, No. 1323, amending Ordinance No. 1312.

Kjellin, who as city administrator ought to be thoroughly versed in all ordinances, overturned that law all by himself — something relatively easily to uncover when cities are required to publish ordinances in newspapers rather than posting them on websites, which they can alter to cover their tracks.

Kjellin’s justification for unilaterally overruling the City Council and the city’s published ordinance was that fuel costs for the city’s garbage truck hadn’t declined. His data, however, were fatally flawed.

Kjellin chose the first half of 2011 to represent the cost for twice-weekly pickup. However, because the change to once-weekly pickup occurred April 4, 2011, his data for twice-weekly pickups included almost as many weeks of once-weekly pickups. Cost of fuel also rose considerably, and residential pickup wasn’t the only thing the fuel was used for. Commercial pickups, two to six days a week, were unaffected by the residential change.

How he managed to complete his review of data from the first half of 2012, which ended June 30, quickly enough to notify residents on city bills dated the next day also is remarkable.

But this pales in comparison to true analysis of the cost. Fuel costs were only $3,875. Labor costs were much more significant. Twice-weekly pickup requires two additional workdays from two or three city employees each week. That’s the equivalent of a full-time position.

When the City Council voted to eliminate a second pickup day, rather than saying, gee, with less work, maybe we don’t need as big a work force, Kjellin instead assigned the manpower to “other tasks.” He now apparently has run out of “other tasks” for city workers to do.

Lest someone realize the city could actually save money by reducing its work force, he needed to give them something to do. And he could make himself out a hero, in contrast to the mean old Council that eliminated pickups, by having them do a second pickup of residential garbage each week.

As a further result, a previous complication in garbage pickup — what happens on Monday holidays? — has returned. When the council voted last year to switch to once-weekly pickup, a main point of discussion was how Monday should not be one of the pickup days. Now it is again thanks to Kjellin.

Meanwhile, money that could have been saved by reducing the city work force is urgently needed for repairs to downtown alleys and the street in front of the jail — projects Kjellin contends the city can’t afford.

Why even bother having a City Council when an administrator can ignore its wishes, featherbed the city payroll with make-work jobs, then complain about lack of money for needed work?

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 11, 2012

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