Wastebasket Cases

People who work in government don't expect their workplaces to be glamorous. But neither do they expect to find heaps of smelly garbage piling up in the lobby.
by | January 2004

People who work in government don't expect their workplaces to be glamorous. But neither do they expect to find heaps of smelly garbage piling up in the lobby.

That's what workers in the Milwaukee County Courthouse were greeted with recently, however. The county is just one of the local governments across the country that have cut way back on custodial staff due to budget pressures.

In Charles County, Maryland, a hiring freeze has left county buildings tended by only about 60 percent of the usual cleanup staff. Every employee has to empty his or her individual wastebasket into central cans, while maintenance operations such as waxing and buffing are happening less often.

One circuit judge sent a memo to his staff ordering them not to help with the cleanup, saying his court needed to maintain "a little decorum," but Michael T. Mudd, director of public facilities, says that most people have been willing to pitch in.

In Milwaukee, the county was down to just two janitorial workers instead of the usual 30. Other employees had to add trash removal, vacuuming and toilet cleaning to their job descriptions. Bags of garbage sat around the hallways long enough to generate a foul odor. The Board of Supervisors recently added back a few positions.

"It really was quite a hit not only to employees in terms of morale, but it really took a toll on the public," says Supervisor John Weishan. "They asked, 'Hell, if they're not even capable of keeping the courthouse clean, are they capable of running multimillion dollar programs?'"