Local News

Pressure Mounts For New Leadership In Sanitation Department

Posted September 28, 2006 8:59 a.m. EDT

— As a public dispute between Raleigh sanitation workers and their managers drags into a third week, some officials are joining workers' calls for a change in leadership in the city's Solid Waste Services Department.

Sanitation workers have staged two work stoppages and a protest rally in the past two weeks and have garnered several meetings with Mayor Charles Meeker and City Manager Russell Allen. They complain about being forced to work overtime without pay and that some workers have been with the department for years but don't receive some benefits because they temporary workers and not city employees.

Charles Funchess, 55, who has worked on Raleigh sanitation crews for eight years, said he and many of his fellow workers believe the only way to solve the problems in the department is to put a new director behind the wheel.

"You can see how overtime, how the issues are. You can see that for yourself, and that speaks for itself," Funchess said.

Solid Waste Services Director Gerald Latta, who has headed the department for 17 years, did not return WRAL's calls seeking comment. He was hired in 1971 as a water plant lab technician in the city's public utilities department. In 1981, Latta became superintendent of water plan operations.

The day of the first work stoppage, Latta tried to convince the crews to get the collection trucks moving.

"What I need you to do right now is do what you do every week -- get the garbage up," he told the workers at the time.

However, the crews did not move for four hours, and Latta has kept a low profile ever since.

In a meeting last Friday between Allen and sanitation workers, Latta wasn't in the middle of the discussion. He still has supporters within the department.

"To me, he's a pretty good manager," said Larry Surles, a route supervisor. "If there is a situation, I can go right in his office, and he'll talk to you. As I tell the guys, sometimes you have to be patient."

But many City Council members are losing patience with the situation and expressed regret the labor dispute had escalated so much.

"I think there are management issues," Councilman James West said.

"What it is is bad management practices," Meeker said, while refusing to point specifically at Latta.

"I feel that management should have their pulse on what is transpiring in their organization, and evidently, this was not something they had their pulse on," Councilwoman Joyce Kekas said.

The council has the authority to hire and fire only the city attorney, city clerk and city manager. So, it's up to Allen to decide if changes in the department are warranted.

He is expected to give a report to the council next Tuesday on the management situation in the Solid Waste Services Department. Because it could involve personnel issues, he declined to comment on the report.

Meeker said he might also recommend hiring a consultant to study management practices in the department.