The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its July 2020 audit of the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s (DSS) weed-cutting program. Based on the Department’s responses, OIG concludes that DSS has fully implemented one corrective action, partially implemented one, and has not implemented five.
The purpose of the July 2020 audit was to determine if DSS met its goals of mowing all City-owned vacant land at least four times during the growing season, and addressing all overgrown weed complaints within 42 days. DSS is responsible for cutting weeds that have grown higher than ten inches on the public way, as well as City-owned and private vacant land. DSS ward superintendents manage this process by visually surveying their wards, responding to complaints, and providing direction to weed-cutting contractors. Because the problem of overgrown weeds disproportionately impacts the West and South Sides of Chicago, DSS’ effectiveness in delivering this service substantially impacts efforts to combat blight in these neighborhoods.
OIG’s 2020 audit found that the City did not have a complete or accurate list of City-owned vacant lots; as a result, DSS could not ensure the amount of times that these vacant lots were cut per year. Without an accurate list, ward superintendents often entered citations into the Mobile Electronic Ticketing System for City-owned properties, leaving it up to the Department of Law (DOL) to review and reject these erroneous charges. We also found that DSS staff resolved weed-cutting complaints in a variety of ways, which caused issues with determining if the Department addressed complaints in a timely manner.
OIG recommended various ways for DSS to improve its operational process such as: working with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and DOL to compile a complete and accurate inventory of vacant City-owned properties and providing this inventory to weed-cutting contractors for management; improving data entry practices; and developing—and clearly communicating to staff and contractors—performance-based weed cutting goals covering both management of City-owned land and complaint response. We also recommended that ward superintendents be responsible only for identifying sanitation nuisances in their wards and responding to complaints. In its response, DSS acknowledged the need for improvements and described corrective actions it would take.
Based on the response from the Department, OIG concludes that DSS has started making some changes, but has yet to implement most of the corrective actions detailed in our audit. DSS has fully implemented only one corrective action—it developed performance-based goals for the weed-cutting process, both for complaint response and management of City-owned land, and communicated those goals to ward superintendents and contractors. However, DSS has only partially implemented one recommendation—working with DPD to compile a complete and accurate inventory of vacant City-owned land—and has yet to implement five remaining recommendations, which include: implementing changes to ward superintendents’ responsibilities; using a route planning tool to optimize ward superintendents’ survey routes; and fixing the data entry design and controls for weed-cutting complaints in Salesforce, while ensuring that work orders and citations are linked to one another so that the Department can accurately track and evaluate performance at each phase of the complaint response process.
“DSS previously acknowledged the need for improvements in its weed-cutting operational process, especially because high weeds and debris can lead to both health and safety concerns and disproportionately contribute to the inequities on the South and West Sides. However, our follow-up shows that although DSS made a commitment towards improvements, it has yet to fully implement all necessary changes,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “Having fully implemented only one recommendation and partially implemented another, the Department has shown some progress but there is still work to be done to adjust ward superintendents’ responsibilities and improve data quality. We urge DSS to continue working on these corrective changes to improve the provision of weed cutting services throughout the City.”
The full report can be found online at OIG’s website: bit.ly/DSSWeedsFollowUp.
The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.