By Anton Riecher
By a vote of 4-0, the Devine City Council has elected to notify Republic Services of its intention to withdraw from the city’s present agreement for trash collection, citing a lengthy track record of service complaints from the public.
“The citizens are not happy with what you are delivering,” said District 3 council member David Espinosa.
The action by the council came during an Oct. 25 council session at which Republic was negotiating for a new five-year agreement to replace its existing contract in place since the company acquiring previous city trash collector ACI Recycling and Disposal.
The motion by District 5 council member Debbie Randall, seconded by District 1 council member Rufino Vega, instructed city attorney Thomas P. Cate to submit a letter to Republic that it does not intend to renew the existing contract which expires in four years nor continue negotiating a replacement contract.
“I’m done,” Randall said.
However, Cate advised the council that the city remains bound to Republic for the length of the present contract. Part of the negotiations over a new agreement was the city’s request for a no-fault termination clause in case of further disagreements.
That clause was absent from the latest version submitted by Republic. The company’s manager for municipal sales, Donovan Rodriguez, told the council that any such agreement would not be to Republic’s advantage.”
“It’s already been expressed that you would get out of the agreement as soon as you could,” Rodriguez said.
Republic sought to make substantial changes in residential and commercial trash collection, such as requiring the use of separate trash carts on designated dates to pick-up yard waste. Bagged waste would no longer be allowed. Another area of negotiation involved use of temporary or permanent roll-off dumpsters for commercial trash collection.
Republic offered compromise on both areas. However, council members Espinosa and Randall remained unsatisfied, particularly with Republic’s version of a no-fault clause.
“I thought we were talking more of a complete no-fault clause, possibly with a 90- or 120-day window to give everybody notice,” Randall said.
Using calculations prepared by the city staff, Randall said the six-mouth clause proposed by Republic would cost the city a minimum of $410,000 in penalties. Both District 4 council member Josh Ritchey and Mayor Cory Thompson joined Randall in rejecting Republic’s proposal.
“Obviously, four hundred and some odd thousand dollars is an unreasonably high option,” Thompson said.
Rodriguez said that Republic, in vying for the replacement contract, had offered considerable concessions to the city just to gain a single year’s extension. He also said that Republic has not heard the complaints claimed by the council members.
“I’ve heard great things from the residents,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve delivered over 80 coloring books with the last few months to the kids that come by.”
However, he told Espinosa that he has prepared responses to the complaints that the council member cited.
“I can get those to you because they weren’t all accurate,” Rodriguez said.
Espinosa said that regarding the city’s relationship with Republic “the damage has been done.”
“It’s time to move forward,” he said. “I’m sorry to say that, but that’s just where I’m at with this thing.”
Randall said that while the service offered by Republic might see short term improvement nothing would prevent a return to what residents had previously experienced.
“Even if we went with the (new) contract, even if we thought this was the most marvelous contract, the company’s history doesn’t reflect that it’s going to get any better,” Randall said. “You don’t have a good track history with us. It might get better for a month, but it’s just going to go back to what it was (before) with six pages of complaints for one week.”
District 2 council member Angela Pichardo was absent from the meeting.
NEW INTERNET TOWER
By motion of Espinosa, seconded by Vega, the council approved a request from Sego Internet of La Coste to install a 100-foot Internet communications tower inside the city limits.
Rodney Hitzfelder, president of Sego, said his visit to the council was courtesy to the city to determine in advance any impediments to placement of the tower.
“Two years ago myself and some friends had bad Internet and we got tired of what we had,” he said. “We started our own company.”
Sago Internet and R Networks of D’Hanis have been designated by the Medina County Commissioners Court to receive $700,000 each from an initial $5 million grant for the county through the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2021.
To date, Sego has erected seven towers and accommodates 130 Internet customers in Medina County towns and much of the rural area, Hitzfelder said.
For full video coverage of the council session visit the Devine New YouTube page at youtu.be/2gdzb53gZS0.
In a 2-1 vote, the council approved the drafting of a potential ordinance governing the raising of chickens within the city limits. City ordinances presently permit the raising of as many as 50 chickens per acre of land, Mayor Thompson said.
The motion by Espinosa calls for a draft ordinance that would allow the city to make a decision on a case-by-case basis. Vega joined Espinosa in approving the motion. However, Randall said her constituency flatly rejected the idea.
“We know there are chickens in district five,” Randall said. “They don’t want the farm issue.”
Ritchey abstained from the vote since he made the original request for an amendment to chapter 14 of the animal ordinance regarding fowl with the intention of raising chickens on his own property. A presentation in favor of such an operation was made at Ritchey’s request by poultry farmer Steve Smith, who lives outside the city limits.
“We raise them different from what most folks understand from conventional poultry for eggs and meat,” Smith said.
His operation involves raising the chickens outdoors rather than “jammed into a small coop,” he said. The birds are moved regularly to benefit soil health and reduce any odor.
“These are meat birds specifically,” Smith said. “No roosters.”
Several others spoke in favor of the proposal. However, Devine resident Kathy Lawler said she would worry about poultry operators who were not as conscientious as Smith.
“What if we have 15 people who don’t take care of their chickens and they do smell and do make a mess?” Lawler said.
Following a public hearing at which no audience members offered comment, the council voted to condemn hangars 8, 8A and 10 at the Devine Municipal Airport by means of eminent domain.
The formal motion adopted by the council refers to the action as an acquisition of property interest in the hangars for “the Public Use of Designing, Developing, Constructing, Enlarging, Extending and Improving the Devine Municipal Airport.”
More than 27,715 square feet of hangar space at the airport was involved in the action..
Before the vote a brief closed executive session was called to brief Ritchey who was unfamiliar with the situation behind the condemnation. City Attorney Thomas P. Cate told the council in open session that the action involved possible litigation.
On a motion by Randall, the council voted to approve $6,593 for the Devine Golf Group LLC as the city’s share of repairs to the water well and pump system at the golf course.
Jay Dishman with the management group told the council that invoice for the well repairs were obtained in August. However, since then a fire broke out in an electrical box connected to one water well near the clubhouse and has had to be added to the repair estimate.
“We paid for them already so we are just looking for what we had in our contract about splitting some of those costs out there at the golf course,” Dishman said.
He also addressed the the general condition of the water system at the course.
“We have a situation right now where we have one of our water wells down on thirteen,” he said. “We are in the process where we have already had an estimate for (that) repair.”
However, the course will not be presenting the cost to the city until another two estimates are obtained, Dishman said.
“As far as the water well system we have out there they are outdated and inefficient,” he said. “They use a lot of energy to (the point) where our jockey system that supplies the big pump (is down). To repair that we are looking at another $5,000 to $8,000.”
He warned against continuing to apply “band-aids” to these problems.
“This has been going on for a good while,” Dishman said. “The last management company that had it put $50,000 into it in two years.”
In other golf course news, the council tabled a proposal to leave a portable building east of the clubhouse in place to serve as office and storage space for the golf course restaurant. The measure was tabled until prices for the project could be obtained.
On a motion by Ritchey, seconded by Randall, the council voted to sell by public auction a lot in the Bain addition. A minimum bid of $24,000 was set for the sale.
The council also approved a subdivision plat for extension to the AEP electrical substation in Devine.
Under zoning, the council approved a variance request submitted for a lot requirement of a minimum 9,000 square feet and a side setback request at 217 S. Bright. A variance was also approved for a five-foot setback requirement at 508 Mockingbird Lane.
The council also approved permission for the Garden Club to move forward with a layout for sprinklers to irrigate near the Four Corners intersection in downtown Devine. Council members also approved a decision to remove two large trees blocking the alley between Mockingbird and Hickory Highway.
On a motion by Randall, seconded by Ritchey, the council voted to advertise in professional publications for a new city administrator. The city is seeking candidates with five years’ experience as a city manager or administrator who also hold a bachelor’s degree and degrees in public administration, management or business.
Initially Randall and Ritchey disagreed about the amount of experience required with Ritchey wanting candidates from “outside the box” Thompson and Espinosa joined Randall in insisting on candidates with ample experience.
With a less experienced administrator, current interim administrator Dora Rodriguez “would have to stay on as a go-to person a lot longer than she hoped to,” Thompson said.