“Any job worth doing is worth doing well.”—credited to Lord Philip Chesterfield (1694-1773), a British nobleman in a letter in 1724. Chesterfield is also credited with inventing the couch, or Chesterfield sofa.
As other metro area counties and cities have occasionally experienced, a long stretch of bad or critical headlines can start to tarnish—some might even say trash—an area’s reputation. Remember the late night show jokes that emerged after the city of Kennesaw passed an ordinance requiring a firearm in every household, or the decline of Clayton County’s reputation following its school system becoming first in the nation to lose accreditation in nearly 80 years, or the near decade when DeKalb County labored under the cloud of one sheriff taking out a contract hit on another rival?
The day-to-day lives of area residents may remain unchanged, but the choices and paths of our community leaders matter and cause much larger ripples in our pond. Before piling on with more shots or criticism toward our own school board, county commission or appointed officials in positions of authority, I want to single out something that DeKalb County does very well. Simply put, we do trash good.
Trash into cash—alternative energy production
DeKalb County has been an innovator in converting trash into cash. The county owns and operates the Seminole Landfill, and starting with the administration of then-CEO Liane Levetan, completed during the tenure of Vernon Jones, and still in operation today, DeKalb processes methane “landfill” gas for use by Georgia Power as a brown energy source, which allowed the utility to initiate its Green Energy program. The plant required for the conversion has already been paid for, and the methane sales have generated roughly $1 million per year in revenue from alternative energy production.
More recently under CEO Burrell Ellis, methane gas from the landfill has been converted into natural gas, and our sanitation vehicle fleet is being converted from using diesel fuel to running on compressed natural gas (CNG). In addition to more county fleet vehicle conversions, the county will eventually make surplus gas available for sale to the general public. The conversion is saving millions in fast rising diesel fuel costs, as well as burning cleaner emissions and generating new revenue from the later sale of natural gas to consumers with hybrid or CNG fueled vehicles.
Recycling increases—fees charged decreased
DeKalb is among the first metro counties to offer recycling and the CEO and commission removed the annual recycling household fee this summer, resulting in the addition of thousands of households to the program. The more waste recycled, the more waste stream diverted from landfills, and the more revenue generated from the sale of recycled waste. A short-term revenue loss, for a long-term revenue gain, as well as extension of the life of the aforementioned Seminole Landfill.
Shorter work week to sate disgruntled employees
In addition to having high absentee rates and sick day counts among the highest in the county workforce, DeKalb sanitation workers have been complaining of poor work conditions, lack of raises and compensation adjustments and attempting to organize a union. In an attempt to stave off those efforts, as well as reward and recognize the department’s successes and achievements, the county commission and CEO deftly combined days of pick-up for yard waste and recyclables. This cut the sanitation employee work week to four days, in effect making every week a long weekend holiday weekend. Compensation was not impacted, but quality time at home or with friends and family should have a positive impact on morale and employee satisfaction.
There is not a lot of glamor in the government grunt work of maintaining infrastructure, providing public safety or working water and sewer systems. These things only gain significant attention when they are not working properly. Municipal waste and its many complications of cost, safety, environmental impact are all being well managed by our DeKalb County CEO, commission and the appointed managers of the department. This is no small feat, and deserves applause and attention. I will add that there are other things that the county does well—and I will attempt to highlight more of those in the coming months—as we know well that upcoming trials and accreditation matters will certainly keep the other side of the coin in view. We certainly don’t want to only be known for handling our waste well. If that were the case, we’d sound an awful lot like the Mob.
Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, Champion Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at email@example.com.