By Anton Riecher
Tension between the Devine City Council and trash collector Republic Services became obvious during a Sept. 20 council meeting to discuss a five-year renewal of the company’s contract.
At one point, Terry Gawlik, municipal sales manager for Republic, complained that it was difficult to maintain an “open dialogue” with city staff.
“I will tell you this, I’ve never had this experience before,” Gawlik said. “We do the best we can. We want to do the right thing.”
Complete video coverage of the meeting is available on the Devine News’ YouTube page at youtu.be/HxJhQUTGUpk.
Interim city administrator Dora Rodriguez said the city is restricting direct communication with Republic representatives unless City Attorney Tom Cate or the city council is present. That decision came after a recent letter sent to the city by a Republic attorney, she said.
No action was taken on the Republic proposal after the Sept. 20 discussion due to the many changes requested by council members, Mayor Cory Thompson said.
Republic Services took over the contract for the collection of residential refuse and recycling when it acquired Central Texas solid waste company ACI Recycling and Disposal. The new contract being offered by Republic involves substantial changes regarding residential and commercial trash collection.
One area of contention is that the new contract no longer allows for the collection of bags filled with yard waste. Instead, residential customers will be required to use a separate trash cart for yard waste with pickup limited to four times a year.
“People aren’t going to do that,” council member Debbie Randall said. “It’s going to sit out on the curb until your brush pickup.”
Gawlik said the transition away from yard bags is chiefly a safety measure.
“I know right now there is a labor shortage,” he said. “It’s hard to get people to help. But now you’ve got yard waste and you’re bending and twisting.”
Gawlik said most waste collectors are moving to this system. The benefit to the city is the rate for the extra yard waste cart has been steeply reduced. Those cost savings were challenged by Randall.
“We’re asking (residents) to raise their bill $5, $8 or $12 for the same service they’ve been getting until this new contract,” she said.
Standard brush pickup is going to quadruple because people will not pay to add the yard waste cart, she said.
“They are going to put it out there and they’re not going to care that it’s over your yard waste limit,” Randall said.
Another bone of contention was the length of time necessary for commercial customers to obtain either a temporary or permanent roll-off dumpster for trash collection. Council member Josh Ritchey said it took his business nearly two months to get a bulk trash pickup on at least two occasions.
“One or two weeks wiggle room okay but we can’t have the stuff one or two months because folks are calling code enforcement and making more work,” Ritchey said.
He asked for a guaranteed schedule for bulk pickups and for the delivery of roll-off units.
“I would like some kind of language that if a business owner contacts you more than three times and is unable to get the roll-off delivered within 45 days, within a reasonable time, they can go to a local service,” Ritchey said.
He did thank Republic for removing the fuel surcharge from its latest proposal.
Donovan Rodriguez, Republic’s manager for municipal sales, told the council that the contract extension delivered to the city August 18 included provisions for eliminating the roll-off franchise, billing non-profit organizations and churches at residential rates,
“I’m confident we can come to an agreement on the numbers,” he said.
Council member Angela Pichardo said that could offer the city two main incentives to negotiate – amount and frequency of waste collection.
“What are your solutions?” she asked. “What can you offer us?”
The volume of solid waste is measured in cubic yards. On average, the calculation is three pounds per person per day divided by 175 pounds per yard times seven days per week. That equals three divided by 175 times seven equals 0.120 cubic yards per person each week.
Donovan suggested increasing the allowed yardage to eight yards or more on bulk pickup with increased frequency of pickup and adding a community location where people can use a roll-off to save the cost of scheduling a bulk pickup.
When Gawlik brought up the issue of open dialogue, Cate countered that the city and the company were in the midst of such a dialogue at that moment. Gawlik said that during the work week it was hard to get clear direction from the city via email alone.
“I’d love to buy lunch, say thank you and find out the little details of what you need,” Gawlik said.
However, when Rodriguez asked if the staff was not answering his emails promptly Gawlik said that the city staff was “doing fine.”
Another issue during the discussion was Mayor Thompson’s insistence on a “no-fault” cancellation clause for either side in the new contract.
“No council in the future needs to be tied into any council decisions that are made today,” Thompson said. “This council got tied into decisions made more than a decade ago.”
Ritchey countered that if the contract includes such a cancellation clause “it’s not even a real contract.” However, Randall joined the mayor in support of a cancellation clause.
“The way it reads now we can say we are terminating and we have to wait four years before we can actually terminate,” she said. “We don’t want that anymore.”
Thompson said requiring cause as the basis for any cancellation would mean submitting the matter to a mediator for arbitration. Cate confirmed this when asked for his opinion.
“To be honest with you it can take a long time,” Cate said. “If we get into litigation it can take the time it took to fulfill the contract.”
Dora Rodriguez asked if it was possible to sign a two-year contract rather than five. Donovan Rodriguez said it would require recalculating the rates quoted in the contract.
An invitation by Gawlik for the council to attend a party held by Republic during the Texas Municipal League annual conference Oct. 5 through 7 in San Antonio met with a frosty response.
“Send us the information so we can make an informed decision on that,” Pichardo said.
Also tabled was a request from council member Ritchey to amend the city ordinance governing fowl kept within the city limits. Acting on the advice of Cate, Ritchey limited his remarks during the discussion since it was part of a business proposal that would provide him financial gain.
“I want to run poultry and (put) small houses in my 12-acre field?” Ritchey said.
The current city regulation limits the number of fowl to no more than 10 per residence with no roosters permitted. The ordinance also places strict provisions on such ownership regarding noise and odor nuisance.
Randall, who said from the outset that she would vote against the amendment, noted that “a lot of people have chickens that shouldn’t have them.”
Thompson noted that San Antonio has a blanket ordinance permitting eight chickens per residence. Fowl must be kept at least 100 feet from any dwelling or business.
He suggested tabling the matter until Ritchey can submit something in writing or designate someone to speak for him during the council session.
Cate complimented Ritchey for bringing the question before the council in the manner that he did.
“People are going to call me a lot of things but they’re not going to call me a liar,” Ritchey said.
The council turned down an application by church charity DFMA, represented by Michael Wilkinson, to install a soft drink vending machine at Briscoe Park as a fund raising operation. Although DFMA offered to install electricity to operate the machine, but the council rejected the idea out of concerns about liability and vandalism with all present voting nay.
The council met briefly with the city’s IT consultant, James Evans of Texas Technology, to discuss possible proposals to be made by Dora Rodriguez in a meeting with AT&T regarding cost cutting measures on communications for the city.
During a workshop on the upcoming 2022-2023 budget Rodriguez told the council that bond payments for the city airport have been moved from the general fund into the budget’s debt service. Thompson told the council that the action would help free up more money in the general fund.
Rodriguez said shifting the payments had been approved in advance by the city’s financial consultant.
By Anton Riecher