By Jan Worth-Nelson
Mayor Karen Weaver and her top staff, along with City Council President Kerry Nelson and Councilman Scott Kincaid, will be reporting for trash negotiation boot camp this morning (Wednesday, Sept. 28), muscled into the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah. And they have been ordered to stay at it, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day after day, until they resolve the matter.
In the meantime, the mayor and city Chief Financial Officer David Sabuda offered residents at a town hall an overview of the differences between two trash contractors under an often rancorous consideration.
With an injunction issued Monday, Farah ordered Mayor Karen Weaver and the Flint City Council for an enforced negotiation of the dispute — on whether to re-hire Republic Services, the city’s current trash contractor favored by the council, or Rizzo Environmental Services, the company favored by the Mayor.
Mayor, council reps called in
Weaver, along with City Administrator Sylvester Jones, Chief of Staff Steven Branch and Chief Financial Officer David Sabuda, were ordered by Farah to report to his courtroom at 9 a.m. today — Wednesday, Sept. 28. There they are to be joined by Council President Kerry Nelson and Scott Kincaid. Farah’s order states that they are all to stay in the courtroom — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — until the dispute is reached. If they haven’t resolved the matter by 5 p.m. Friday, Farah’s order dictates, a third party appointed by the State of Michigan “will join to facilitate settlement negotiations” on Monday.
Weaver contends switching to Rizzo will save the city $2 million, while the City Council, in an 8-1 majority, contends the numbers don’t add up. They have further stated Republic is the company preferred by their constituents.
Nelson and Kincaid, along with four other council members, held a press conference Sept. 23 to declare they believe the Republic proposal is the “lowest responsible bid.” First ward councilman Eric Mays held his own press conference immediately afterward to disagree and to declare among other points that the council’s deliberations were violation of the open meetings act.
Weaver says “I follow the law”
But at a town hall session with about 50 residents at the UAW Region 1-D Hall Tuesday night, a spirited Weaver said, “I’ve got something to say. I know you all want to talk about trash.
“I want to explain what my responsibility is, so if somebody thinks I’m not doing my job, let me tell you that I am. Let me say that first of all, I follow the law. I follow the charter, and the charter says it’s my responsibility to put forward the lowest responsible bid. That’s it.
“If you want to know what I’m fighting about, some money, I thought about $2 million for more lead service line replacement, and $2 million is a lot. When I campaigned I told everybody I wasn’t doing no-bid contracts — that’s what the emergency managers did to us, and I’m sick of emergency managers. And I am sick and tired of people saying I’m union busting because I’m not. I like the union.”
She continued, “Apparently enough people didn’t get out to vote, so we wouldn’t be a right-to-work state. That’s what we should be fighting for, getting people out to vote.
“But my responsibility is to uphold the law. People are asking me, am I going to court tomorrow, yeah — didn’t the judge order me? Yeah, I follow the law….let me say that first of all. So that’s what I did.
“So Republic came in $2 million more. That’s already an automatic saving,” she said. “People should be happy. We paid for water we couldn’t use. I don’t know why nobody’s mad that they [Republic] have been charging us $2 million more. So you can call it whatever you want, but I’m gonna do what I’m supposed to do. I’m not mudslinging, I haven’t been talking about anybody, because I don’t have the time.”
“Apples to apples”
Sabuda reviewed a chart comparing the Rizzo and Republic bids, based on both three-year and five-year contracts for each company, an attempt, according to the mayor, to compare “apples and apples” in answer to others who have said the bids were based on dissimilar criteria.
The chart showed Rizzo’s three-year bid, including waste, recycling, composting, dumpsters and blight, coming in at $378,455 lower than Republic, $11,208,097 to $11,586,552.
The five-year comparison, based on the same four categories, showed Rizzo again coming in lower, $17,418,644 to Republic’s $19,518,436.
Council president Kerry Nelson and council members Vicki Van Buren, Monica Galloway, Scott Kincaid and Eric Mays were present at the meeting. Galloway, from the Seventh Ward where resistance to the mayor’s proposal has been vocal, was the only one to question Sabuda and the mayor. She raised a point about the “preference clause” which would have offered the vendors a percentage advantage in the bidding process based on whether the companies were located in the county.
While Sabuda confirmed Rizzo’s headquarters are outside the county and Republic has a business address inside the county, Sabuda and City Administrator Jones said the differential discounts were included in the bids. An additional argument about there being fewer residents here than in the past, Jones said, would be another reason for taking the lower bid — because as the population has dropped, the burden of covering city services has fallen proportionately greater on those who remain.
The trash debate began in June, when Weaver’s administration first asked the council to confirm selecting the new company after the lower bid came in. The council and others voiced concern about Rizzo’s integrity and asserted the two bids did not compare “apples to apples.” They also suggested the mayor was motivated by pressure from others in her circle of supporters who were alleged to be paid consultants to Rizzo.
The council voted 8-1 against Rizzo, and the Mayor vetoed the council vote. Councilman Scott Kincaid then filed suit against Weaver’s action, and in August Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah issued an injunction stopping Weaver from implementing her plan to put Rizzo on the job.
But on Sept. 9 the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, and Weaver sent a letter to Republic informing them Sept. 23 would be their last day on the job. That was when the city council held their press conference and Kincaid went back to Farah again, again obtaining another injunction keeping Republic on the job for now and calling the warring teams to come together to try to work out an agreement.
At the town hall, several residents bemoaned the city having lost its own public trash services, and asked Sabuda what it would take to reinstitute the home-grown service. Sabuda said the cost would be much more than the $17 million bid by Rizzo.
Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.