Statesville City Councilman Keith Williams addresses crowd at Statesville High School on Thursday evening.
Statesville Council members vow to protect sanitation division from outsourcing
BY STACIE LETT CAIN
Concerned residents gathered Thursday evening at Statesville High School to express their opposition to the possible privatization of the city’s sanitation services.
“Tonight we are all here to strategize how to appeal to the city council to save our sanitation department,” Robin Williams told a group of nearly 60 residents who attended the meeting. “We don’t want to lose the 22 amazing individuals that make up our sanitation services department. These men have built their lives around their employment with the city. For their hard work, it is our turn to show them our support.”
Amid discussions about leaf removal and budget negotiations this spring, the idea of contracting with a private company to handle the city’s sanitation services was mentioned as a possible cost-saving move.
That was enough to raise the hackles of several residents, including Carol Oliphant who shared a personal experience with the crowd.
“A few years ago I hit a speed bump in my life that left me having to learn how to walk and talk and do most everything again,” she explained. “My mother -- God rest her soul -- came down to help me but struggled getting the garbage container down to the street for pick-up.”
Pointing at 30-year sanitation worker Kenneth Boller, Oliphant explained that the kindness and dedication to service of one man changed her life.
“He saw my mother struggle and got down from the truck and took the garbage can from her,” she explained, getting visibly emotional. “For the next two months he did that for us. He even stopped to talk with me one day and said that he and his wife were praying for my recovery.
"You don’t get that level of care from a private firm,” Oliphant said.
Larry Marlin, the owner of First Rx of Statesville, shared his concern not only for the loss of service due the possible privatization but also for the employees themselves.
“Why would you take the only city department that works and eliminate it?” he asked. “They are an amazing group of men who work with substandard equipment that is down more than it is up. But these men, especially in my neighborhood, know how much I appreciate what they do.
"When it’s hot I give them something cold to drink; when it’s cold, they get meal tickets. They go over and above to give us personal service. Now it's time we show them that means something to us.”
But privatization wasn’t the only topic. How the employees learned they may be facing unemployment was also discussed.
“When this was presented to sanitation, it was not done right,” Marlin said. “It was just dropped on them. They were afraid, they were stressed and they were saddened. It hurt them and it hurts me too.”
Todd Scott of the Statesville NAACP also spoke and agreed that the news was not communicated fairly.
“If this doesn’t happen and these men are able to continue serving this community the way they always have, someone owes them an apology,” Scott demanded. “For weeks they have been worried about losing their jobs, losing their retirement and not being able to feed their families. Whoever told them they may lose their job needs to step up and apologize for what they have gone through.”
And the discussion did not fall on deaf ears.
Five City Council members were present at the meeting and addressed the crowd.
“This is not going to happen,” C.O. “Jap” Johnson said definitively. “I have been on this council for 29 years and in all of that time I have never once had an issue with getting things done by this department. We have five council members here and we can stop this.”
Similar support was expressed by Doris Allison, John Staford, Steve Johnson and Keith Williams.
“The sanitation department is doing a great job with worn-out equipment,” Steve Johnson said. “So do other departments. The council is not listening to the city staff and not prioritizing where the money needs to be spent. Priority needs to be on daily functions instead of the foolishness that we are putting in front of those needs.”
Keith Williams agreed that if the five council members present stood together, the issue could resolved at the next City Council meeting on July 15.
“If sanitation workers were told that this is a done deal, they were told wrong,” Williams said. “I am hoping we can put this issue to bed Monday night. This came up in terms of leaf collections and in terms of budget hearings we just had. It was never put down as a done deal.”
To Bobby Messick, a retired sanitation worker who put in 30 years of hard work for the City of Statesville, it's not just about saving a little money for the city.
“People don’t realize what we really do,” he said of his sanitation family. “We don’t do this job for the money; we do it to provide a service to our city. During Hurricane Hugo we risked our lives to remove debris when there were live power lines down. Our workers are hit by cars doing their job because people don’t pay attention. But that doesn’t stop any of us from going to a house to grab a can for someone who can’t, or pick up trash off the streets even when we didn’t lose it off our truck.
"Those are our streets and we are proud to take care of them and the people who live here,” Messick added.