By Jan Worth-Nelson
Flint’s trash pickup is once again in limbo due to ongoing disagreement between the City Council and Mayor Karen Weaver. The focus of disagreement is which of two competing potential contractors, the current contractor, Republic Services, Inc. and the one favored by the mayor, Rizzo Environmental Services, has provided the “lowest responsible bid.”
Weaver issued a statement early today saying Rizzo Environmental Services “will begin working in our community collecting trash effective Monday.” But at almost the same time, eight of nine city council members delivered a statement from the dome in City Hall saying they disagreed with the Mayor’s action and support retaining the current trash contractor, Republic. because “they are undoubtedly the lowest responsible bidder.”
In a statement at a morning press conference, 9th Ward Councilman Scott Kincaid announced he had filed an injunction in Circuit Court to stop the Mayor from implementing her letter and entering into an agreement with Rizzo.
He reviewed the council’s position after recent meetings about proposals on the competing bids, in particular the question of whether to award a three-year contract with Republic, the current trash collection provider, or a five-year contract with Rizzo. He contended as council members have in the past that the two sets of bids represented different service offers and that the Mayor’s contention that Rizzo’s bid would save the city money was misleading and inaccurate.
Weaver continues to maintain that Rizzo’s bid would save the city at least $2 million.
Kincaid said it will be up to the court to decide when to rule on the injunction.
Kincaid said most of the council believe that the Mayor was advancing Rizzo because of “commitments to people supporting her administration,” some of whom, he said, are being paid by Rizzo.
Weaver, however, attributed her decision to “fiscal responsibility,” stating “After months of consideration, negotiation and litigation, I am ready to move forward with a temporary appointment of the lowest responsible bidder to begin collecting waste in Flint.
“My team and I are eager to get this matter resolved, so we can focus more on securing the resources Flint still needs to recover from the water crisis, increase economic development, and improve the overall quality of life for the people of Flint.”
Council members said they did not know why the mayor took action when she did because they were given no warning of her letter declaring the city would proceed with Rizzo. Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah had called a temporary restraining order on the Mayor’s decision to hire Rizzo on Aug. 11 and said the council and mayor would have 90 days to negotiate an agreement.
However, on Sept. 9 the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed Farah’s decision, stating that he could not place an injunction on the Weaver administration “nor order the City Attorney to appoint an attorney to represent the Flint City Council in a lawsuit against Weaver’s office over a trash contract dispute.”
That judgement declared “plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proving a need of a preliminary injunction because they could not show that they are likely to prevail on the merits of their action.”
In spite of all this, Kincaid declared, “Garbage will be picked up Monday” but said “I can tell you and the residents of this community that the city council will support that trash and recycling would be picked up by Republic.”
“We are determined that the only lowest responsible bidder is Republic and our constituents support that position,” he said.
First Ward Councilman Eric Mays, the lone council supporter of Weaver’s position to hire Rizzo, appeared during the press conference and in an independent statement at the end said the press conference reflected a violation of the Open Meetings act because he had not been notified of the deliberations that led to the council’s statement. When Mays cited part of the Emergency Manager Act which has determined much of the city’s fate in recent years in the rationale for his objection to how the council acted, tempers flared.
The discussion veered briefly into a volatile exchange about wider issues and tensions, in particular perception that the Weaver administration is colluding with the state’s relationship with the city.
From the back of the room, Councilpersons Monica Galloway of the 7th Ward and Wantwaz Davis of the 5th Ward yelled at Mays “Are you advocating for the emergency manager act now?” Galloway shouted, “You’ve been so anti-emergency manager but now you’re an advocate for an Emergency Manager Act?”
Davis shouted, “Why do the administration keep running this issue through the same government that poisoned this city?”
He said his sense is that the city as a whole “is totally against the government that created havoc in this city, has caused legionnaire in children, has people carrying cases of water to their homes, but this administration continues to run this issue to the same government that has poisoned this city and I don’t understand why we continue to involve the government who is totally against this city.”
Davis said, “Council has shown unity in this issue against Rizzo and the council and the residents of this city have said they want Republic. When she [Weaver] was elected she kept speaking about local control, local control, but then she and her team keep involving the same government that is not in the best interests of the residents of this city.”
After the press conference, Council President Kerry Nelson expressed dismay at the Mayor’s action, saying he wished “the Mayor would spend just a little more time on the water crisis as she does with the waste, because she has to understand there really was no problem with the waste contract. The waste was being picked up.” He added, “The trash wasn’t poisoning us.”
Vicki Van Buren, 8th Ward city councilwoman, said after the meeting that she regrets that the trash dispute continues to take up the council and city’s attention. She said it was her perception that when the city administrators realized things weren’t going their way, they called a halt to negotiations. She said the rest of the council did not include Eric Mays in recent discussions about the day’s press conference because “We knew where he stood. What would be the purpose? We feel he is more of the Mayor’s staff than a city council person.”
She said she is stopped everywhere she goes, from the Farmers’ Market to restaurants, to parking lots — she said she received calls even early this morning — from people who want to retain Republic. “When you talk to the community, they say, ‘we want Republic.’ And isn’t it our job to listen to our constituents?”
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.