by Patricia Lesko
I recently received a long email with the Subject line: City of Ann Arbor Action – MONDAY NIGHT!! from someone named Doug Selby. In his email, Mr. Selby urges me to attend the next City Council meeting to pressure Council members to award the contract to run our Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) to RAA as opposed to Waste Management (the lowest bidder). RAA is a subsidiary of and controlled by The Ecology Center.
I don’t know Doug Selby, but I am on the Ecology Center’s email newsletter list. After a bit of poking around, I found that Doug Selby (http://www.ecocenter.org/about-us) serves on the board of the Ecology Center. His email (sent to those on the Ecology Center’s/RAA’s email list?) is not identified as an Ecology Center mass mailing. The email did not identify Selby as a Board member of the Ecology Center. To most people, the message would look simply like an email from a concerned neighbor.
I find that troubling. I found the contents of Mr. Selby’s mass email troubling, as well.
River District neighbor Bobby Frank recently shared on NextDoor that after multiple phone calls to RAA, staff there had finally answered Bobby’s question: Were the hundreds and hundreds of tons of glass we’re all recycling (and paying RAA to haul) going into the landfill instead? The answer he finally got was this: YES. However, RAA officials had initially and repeatedly denied to Bobby our glass was being landfilled.
I contacted Council members Frenzel and Smith (both of whom sit on the Environmental Commission) to ask if, indeed, our glass “recycling” is being landfilled, for how long, and when they became aware of the practice and how many tons, total, have been landfilled. Frenzel (my Ward 1 Council member), chose not to reply or acknowledge my questions. Chip Smith replied. He said he’d been made aware in July 2016 and been “upset.” He also shared that city staff told him this has been going on for “a few years.” Smith deserves credit for his frank answers.
Council members had been made aware that our recycling is being landfilled, but residents were not informed. Ecology Center/RAA was paid millions and millions of dollars to haul our “recycled” glass to the MRF, and the landfill.
Mr. Selby writes in his email:
SELBY: “For the last 8 months, the city has squandered over $1 Million to have Waste Management, Inc. landfill the city’s recyclables. What’s more, the city’s current contract with WM costs the city $125,000 more PER MONTH than the previous contract. This is currently costing city residents a LOT of extra money for terrible results. If you want to be more appalled, keep reading.”
My question: Since landfilling of our recyclables has been going on for a “few years,” according to Ward 5 Council member Chip Smith, why are we only hearing about it now, when RAA wants Council to award them the contract to run the MRF?
SELBY: “The City Environmental Commission voted unanimously to award the contract to RAA/Rumpke, but City staff is recommending Waste Management. The city staff are also playing games to make it look like WM’s proposal is the most cost-effective to the City Council when it is not.”
My question: Mr. Selby makes a very serious, unsubstantiated allegation concerning unprofessionalism and perhaps dishonesty on the part of our city staff, including our new City Administrator. Why didn’t his email include proof of the alleged “games” and/or misdeeds (i.e., links to the original bids, which are public records, emails from city staff or financial records)?
SELBY: “Fix the MRF, hire RAA to operate it. It’s the best for our taxes, the best for the environment and the best for our community. Please help us ensure that Waste Management does not come into our community, extract our tax money and landfill a large percentage of our recyclables.”
My question: An unknown (but certainly large) percentage of our recycling (all of the glass collected) has been landfilled with the tacit assistance of RAA for a few years. City staff were quoted in this recent article (http://www.waste360.com/contracts/ann-ar…) as saying, “Ann Arbor is weighing is whether to invest in glass moving forward.” How will giving this contract to RAA change the fact that our glass recyclables can’t be sold and are, therefore, being landfilled?
Here’s some information gathered from public records about our solid waste and recycling programs. I’m certainly interested in what others think and am glad to provide links to public records for those who want to do there own poking around.
1. Council voted in December 2003 to change the RAA contract to a performance based contract. The stated cost was $766,071. By FY10 that cost had grown to over $1.6 million. By FY 2010, though the amount paid to RAA had more than doubled, the amount of materials being collected by RAA had stagnated. The city was paying more and more to collect virtually the same amount of recyclables. Our city residential collection crews pick up about 28,000 garbage carts. RAA picks up about 30,000 recycling carts.
2. It costs taxpayers significantly more to outsource recycling collections. The payment to RAA under the auspices of the most recent no bid contract to pick up the recycling carts is *double* the cost of wages and benefits paid to city employees to pick up the trash carts. From FY06 through FY10 it cost about $4 million more to pick up the recyclables. Recycle Ann Arbor provides the labor, and of course, charges for its own administrative costs. Taxpayers foot the bill for the Recycle Ann Arbor trucks, fuel, and maintenance under the auspices of the one-sided contract negotiated by a now-retired city staffer and approved by City Council in 2010.
3. The City Administrator/city staff recently awarded the contract to run our Materials Recycling Facility to Waste Management, the lowest bidder. This is a marked departure from how our recycling program contracts have been awarded in past (under the now retired senior city staff member). Under previous city management, multiple, multi-million dollar, no bid contracts have been awarded to RAA, with the support of the Environmental Commission (whose members used to include Ecology Center/RAA Board member David Stead). After the conversion to single-stream, Stead’s company was awarded city contracts.
Waste Management is facing lawsuits from city customers who accuse WM of dumping recycling directly into landfills. Single-stream recycling has been criticized as environmentally regressive and as benefitting the hauler rather than the environment. The problem is not who runs the MRF, but rather our entire recycling program and its bloated costs.
If awarding a single contract to the lowest bidder seems City Government 101, as regards our recycling program it is an encouraging step by our new City Administrator away from entrenched cronyism. Ecology Center director Mike Garfield has repeatedly endorsed local Council candidates who have voted in favor of lop-sided, no bid contracts for RAA. Mr. Selby’s email and this effort to bamboozle city residents into pressuring City Council into reversing the award of a recycling contract to the lowest bidder, should, public records suggest, be viewed with suspicion.