Trash Talk about Trash Pickup
Last night there were some hard feelings at the council bench over a majority decision to put the city’s trash hauling contract out for bid while Waste Management’s current contract is still in effect. In his statements explaining why he would vote against the measure, Councilman Joe Romano stated “something stinks here, and it’s not the garbage!” He then went on to imply that campaign contributions from a competitive trash hauler might explain what he viewed as the majority’s haste in sending the contract out to bid.
Positions of Proponents and Opponents
The council members holding the minority position, Maria Schmidt, Barbara Ziarko, and Joseph Romano, argued that sending the contract out for bids was premature, that they didn’t have adequate time to review the bid specification due to the election, and that the city could simply exercise its option to extend the current contract for a one- or two-year term. They didn’t see a need to send the contract out for bids at this time, and at least one of them expressed concern over the potential for a lawsuit by Waste Management, which currently has an exclusive license for curbside recyclables collection.
On the other hand, Council Members Skrzyniarz, Koski, Shannon and Mayor Taylor argued that sending the contract out for bids would likely result in a substantial savings to the city, and it could introduce the possibility of new services, i.e. mechanized trash collection via 64- or 96-gallon wheeled containers, plus curbside single-stream recycling at no extra charge to the residents. Citing the potential for a half million dollar savings to the city on the single largest outsourced service the city contracts, the majority view was that the worst that would happen would be the extension of the current contract with Waste Management under the terms already in place.
Mr. Romano’s Charge
Mr. Romano was the last opposing council member to speak on the issue, and in his talk he described the matter in a way that suggested back room politicking and tit-for-tat accommodations for campaign contributors. He cited Rizzo Services’ contributions to all of the incumbents as somehow being an improper attempt to influence council to send the contract out to bid while their competitor and long time contract holder Waste Management still has time left to go on its current contract, two possible extensions, and an exclusive license for curbside recycling in the city until 2018.
Mayor Taylor’s Rebuttal
Mayor Taylor stated that he “resented” Mr. Romano’s charge, and that nobody from Rizzo had ever suggested their contribution was made in anything more than the spirit of seeking good government for the city. He then went on at some length to explain his reasons for bringing the matter to the fore, including the facts that the bid specification had been in the works for months, and that a substantially unchanged version was made available to the council over one month before last night’s vote.
Was this really necessary?
Mr. Romano’s statements regarding campaign contributions were out of line. His speculation that the Mayor and council members who sided with the majority vote were somehow acting improperly and hastily were just that: idle speculation. In the process of making his accusation, not only did he accuse fellow members of council of wrongdoing, he also accused a local Sterling Heights business of bribery. Mr. Romano, in your statement you said you wanted to avoid lawsuits. Can you explain how making a slanderous accusation such as this aligns with trying to keep the city out of court?
When someone make accusations that attack peoples’ integrity, there should be proof. Conjecture and speculation amounts to little more than gossip. Mr. Romano may well be upset to find himself on the losing side of the vote on this issue, but that doesn’t justify the statements he made that impugn the integrity of the majority side and Rizzo Services.
Yet, even with all of the discord, something very positive happened during the discussion. After Mayor Taylor gave his opinion on the issue at some length, Councilwoman Ziarko made a rebuttal to some of his statements. Suddenly, we had an actual debate! It was short-lived, but it represented a baby step towards something I’ve wanted to see at the council bench for some time: actual deliberations, a back-and-forth discussion of the issues, and real consideration of both sides. I give Mayor Taylor credit for allowing and perhaps even encouraging this sort of exchange, and to Councilwoman Ziarko for speaking her mind even after her turn was over. We need more of this. With the Open Meetings Act preventing deliberations outside of a public meeting, it has to happen somewhere.
In the end, City Council will get past this. Mr. Romano would do well to remember that making accusations of this nature against people you’ve just been re-elected to serve with for two more years is counter-productive. As for the opposition by Councilwomen Schmidt and Ziarko, I think their points were well made, but sometimes that isn’t enough to win the day.
Finally, nobody really can claim that this council is a “rubber stamp” on much of anything after witnessing this exchange. These people really are all trying to do what’s best for the city, and they don’t always agree. It’s somewhat rare that you’ll see it to this extent, but it does happen.