Recap: City of Atlanta Roundtable with Commissioner Al Wiggins, Department of Public Works

City of Atlanta Roundtable Recap
January 3rd, 2024
Speaker: Commissioner Al Wiggins, Public Works, City of Atlanta

On Wednesday, January 3rd, 2024, the Council for Quality Growth welcomed Commissioner Al Wiggins to its City of Atlanta Roundtable. Thank you Commissioner Wiggins for your time, Verizon for sponsoring, and Selig Enterprises for hosting the meeting.

As the head of Atlanta’s Public Works department, Commissioner Wiggins manages a lot of employees who cover a lot of land and people. According to Wiggins, the City has over 1,600 miles of right-of-way to maintain and over 100,000 subscribers – or “customers” – to attend to. Wiggins refers to Atlanta residents as customers because he wants to inspire a service delivery mentality within his workforce. By nature of its functions, the Public Works department is the only department that touches all residential customers in the City.

Department culture was therefore a highlight of Wednesday’s meeting. Commissioner Wiggins repeatedly expressed appreciation for his department’s employees, calling them “unsung heroes.” Public Works service is a difficult job, he said, and since government careers can be a harder pitch, Wiggins only seeks employees who want to be “change agents” and problem-solving pioneers. He admires the boots-on-the-ground employees who address Atlanta’s messier challenges, some of them having done so for over four decades.

Illegal dumping, for example, has emerged as a major challenge to the City. Since Wiggins’ team can only cover so much ground, they have turned to innovative technologies to more efficiently provide their services. New approaches include mobile applications to monitor right-of-way maintenance, automated mechanical arms for garbage trucks, a route optimization software, and an artificial intelligence (AI) pilot program. The first of its kind according to the Commissioner, the AI program will use optical recognition via cameras on trucks to identify which locations most need maintenance. They also use predictive analysis technology to identify where illegal dumping is most likely to occur; Wiggins listed factors like heavy tree canopy, low traffic counts, and inadequate street lighting that the AI will consider. The Department has also made significant improvements to its communication systems, which today’s audience corroborated with examples and gratitude.

Looking forward, Commissioner Wiggins mentioned beautification projects, community education on waste management, and efforts to increase recycling participation.

He also emphasized that if you see a Public Works employee performing his or her services in your community, a “thank you” goes a long way. These great people clean and maintain our communities every day, often going unnoticed, and are critical to the City of Atlanta.