Winfield says he intends to act swiftly

23-year city employee, ousted 4 years ago, returns as public works chief

January 05, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

George Winfield visited Mayor Martin O'Malley's office Thursday and signed the registry: "Geo. Winfield, citizen."

Yesterday, the 56-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident walked out of City Hall one council confirmation hearing away from being O'Malley's next public works director.

The 23-year city employee -- ousted four years ago after criticizing leaders of the beleaguered department -- returned yesterday to become head of the agency.

At a morning news conference, the soft-spoken and subdued Winfield wasted little time pledging reforms that will include investigating alleged drug abuse among the department's 6,000 workers to asking citizens to photograph neighbors illegally dumping trash in the city.

"Crime and grime and litter all go together," said Winfield, who worked the past two years as an air compliance engineer for the state.

Although acknowledging his need to get a handle on the huge department and a $500 million annual budget that covers 10 city services ranging from water to parking enforcement, Winfield said he intends to act swiftly in making Baltimore a national model of cleanliness.

The former director of the department's Bureau of General Services will get help. Joining him at the announcement yesterday were members of O'Malley's public works transition team and the president of the city union that represents most of the public works employees.

"He's the only choice," said Glenn Middleton, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, of Winfield's selection. "He's got a low-key style that gets the job done."

In addition, O'Malley said an office will be set up on the same floor as Winfield's to house consultants from some of the city's largest businesses. Last month, the Greater Baltimore Committee and the President's Roundtable, the city's largest minority business group, pledged to lend managerial expertise to the city with hopes of helping it become more efficient.

Winfield said the job will be monumental. Among the top priorities he listed were:

Getting a handle on the depth of the department's alleged drug abuse problem. Winfield said he wants to determine how many of the employees who work daily on city streets might be addicted.

Fending off privatization. Cities such as Philadelphia and Indianapolis have forced their city public works unions to compete against private companies to deliver services at lesser costs. Groups such as the Baltimore Homeowners Coalition have urged Baltimore -- facing a projected $153 million budget deficit over the next four years -- to do the same.

Winfield said he will try to make the department as efficient as possible before turning to that option.

Targeting problem employees. Winfield intends to identify inefficiency, including employees not doing their jobs. "I'm sure there are people on the public works payroll who don't even work in public works," he said. "And we will be removing those people who are not efficient."

Setting up a system for neighbors to document illegal dumping. The reason that much of the city's illegal dumping is not documented is fear of retribution by complainants, Winfield said. He will meet with city lawyers to determine if evidence -- including videotapes -- obtained anonymously from city residents can be used to prosecute offenders.

Looking at reducing city trash collection to once a week. Baltimore remains one of the only major cities in the country with twice-a-week trash collection.

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