By LESLIE MCMORROW, Editorial Assistant
As part of a recurring feature, “On the job: working for you,” Peoria Times will be featuring little known or seen Peoria city jobs and workers in an effort to highlight the employees and departments that strive for excellence with personnel and work hard to put citizen tax dollars to work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Clean streets and neighborhoods are a point of pride for cities and residents, but they are also a point of pride for those who work to keep them clean. This is especially true for Charlie Matos, a city street sweeper, whose route takes him throughout residential streets of Peoria.
I recently went on a ride with him, to see what he sees and learn how our street sweepers do their jobs on a daily basis. He had just returned from cleaning up after a vehicle accident, in time to pick me up.
“Step into my office,” said Matos, as he held the door open to a comfortable truck cab for one, but a little tight for two. It was a learning experience for both of us, since I was the first ride-along passenger he’s ever had.
Driving toward his regular route, to start his day, Matos explained all the buttons, dials and switches placed within easy reach of the driver. To the average citizen, the cab could look extremely intimidating, but he said that with the training our drivers go through, as well as time behind the wheel, everything becomes second nature to them.
While riding with Matos, I noticed that his eyes never left the road. Not only was he performing extremely safe driving habits - it’s a large vehicle, but sometimes drivers don’t pay attention or understand the capabilities of these vehicles - but he was also keeping an eye out for areas that may need attention along the way. It is difficult for him to drive past typical road debris, he admitted, but if the street sweepers stopped every time they saw a discarded cup or styrofoam container, they would never reach their scheduled areas.
There are four sweepers taking care of Peoria streets; two for residential neighborhoods and two for main thoroughfares and commercial areas. Each route has a set schedule and pathway that is followed to ensure no areas are missed. The department’s schedule is set at 12 weeks to complete each route, before starting again, but through the hard work and dedication of these public safety workers, the schedule turn-around timeframe has been going down.
Even with additional call-outs to take care of glass in the road, or to clean up spills, “We’ve been able to consistently reduce our turn-around to 10 weeks,” Matos said proudly.
That means the sweepers are reaching Peoria neighborhoods sooner and more often, a goal department personnel set for themselves.
Matos has been working and driving for the City of Peoria more than 11 years, ranging from storm water cleaner and sweeper to bulk trash pickup, roll-offs (large rentable dumpsters for large renovation projects), Stingers (commercial trash trucks that load from the front) and more. He said he’s happy with his current job; he gets satisfaction seeing clean streets in his side-view mirrors.
“You can see the product of your work, immediately, in this job,” Matos said. “Seeing a clean street behind me lets me know I did my job right. I don’t like leaving dirt behind.”
In talking with Matos, you would first be struck by his personality and enthusiasm. His contagious laugh comes easily and you can’t help but respond. He has energy for life and believes in giving back. Before working for the city, Matos drove for United Food Bank, which allowed him to see the needs that exist. Matos knows that even the smallest act of kindness can make a world of difference. He recounted a story of how a woman helped get his feet back under him, by bringing him in for a meal. That meal introduced him to others, who helped him find his way and he is now happily married, living a comfortable life and has the respect of many who interact with him.
Because his luck changed with a simple act of kindness, he now works to return the favor in kind, carrying clothes and shoes he personally buys in his vehicle to give to those who may need it. Besides leaving clean streets behind him as he drives, Matos leaves a little kindness, as well.
When asked what citizens can do to help maintain clean streets, the department has only a few requests: 1) bring in trashcans at night, 2) pick up newspapers from the curb - they can clog the truck and make a mess, and 3) please do not blow yard clippings into the streets; they can jam the truck, cause potential damage, and can also clog storm drains.
In cases where emergency cleanups may be needed, citizens can call 623-773-7432, or visit peoriaaz.gov and click to the Public Works – Utilities Department (Public Works Division) to request service.