Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, the firm advising the City on proposals for handling our trash, has released this report.
From the City Manager's note to the Mayor and Council:
Attached is the recommendation from GBB. The summary position is they disqualify Waste Connections from further consideration, recommend Hilco for transportation and recommend Republic for disposal. They raise serious concerns with A-1 Sandrock.
At this time GBB is scheduled to discuss their recommendation with Council on September 10.
Right on schedule, the Rhino proclaims GSO's new recycling plan to be a dud.
As someone who voiced concern over long-term vendor lock-in during the White Street debate, I think contract length is a valid issue.
Funny, though, that the proposed 15-year contract for White Street was supported by the Rhino, while the length of the old 15-year recycling deal was "ridiculous" and the new 10-year recycling contract is much too long.
“We don’t think the future, long term, is going to be continuing to put everything in the landfill,” Rush said in an interview. “It’s going to be recovering more value from this material. The customers will demand it, the struggle for resources will demand it, and quite honestly, economically, it’s the thing we should be doing.”
The tricky thing for Greensboro is that this is not yet happening at an industrial scale, and we need a garbage plan now.
Chris Brook made some important points in yesterday's N&R op-ed about the attempted hasty reopening of the White Street landfill, including the fact that saving money on trash disposal is very important, but there may be better ways to realize savings, and also costs measured in dollars must be balanced against other considerations.
Discussing the potential use of that landfill was a good idea. Rushing to reopen it without examining all options, and doing so in the context of a long-range solution, was a big mistake.
In booming North Dakota, where fracking has helped increase US oil production beyond the dreams of the Drill Baby Drillers, natural gas is burned as a low-value byproduct (as it is, at least for the moment, at the GSO landfill).
Which suggests a couple of things: fracking is likely to remain a part of the energy business toolkit, and there's no reason for North Carolina to rush into allowing it.
So, after all that drama, GSO still needs a cost-effective garbage plan.
The next round of discussion should aim higher than the botched process that died with a whimper yesterday afternoon -- bigger vision, longer-term thinking, more transparency, greater respect for people across the city.
Winners and Losers:
This issue was Bill Knight's major test as Mayor. It showed his strength as a number-cruncher, but also his limitations as an idea man, a communicator, and a leader who crosses lines and brings people together. Loser.
Danny Thompson made an effort to reach out beyond the mini-majority, and his thoughts on investing any savings from a temporary re-opening of White Street could be a template for further action. It would have been swell if he'd said more about all that stuff during Council meetings, though. Winner.
Jim Kee listened to the people of his district, and also pushed to consider technology solutions. Winner.
Zack Matheny found the courage to stand up to the mini-majority's attempt to keep a fellow elected official from voting. Good for him, good for GSO. Winner.
Nancy Vaughan and Robbie Perkins now own this issue. Best of luck. Winners...so far.
D.H. Griffin's soft words came after a failed attempt to strong-arm a deal, and his company still wants to do business at White Street. Loser.
UPDATE: City press release says, "Greensboro City Council’s public hearing on a proposal to award a contract to Gate City Waste Services for the City’s municipal solid waste services, originally scheduled for tonight’s meeting (agenda item No. 10), has been cancelled. The City received a letter from Gate City Waste Services representatives earlier today requesting that the company’s bid for managing the City’s municipal solid waste, including White Street Landfill, be terminated."
From a letter to Bill Knight from D.H. Griffin, Sr:
I am writing on behalf of Gate City Waste Services (Gate City) to respectfully request that our bid for the referenced services at White Street Landfill be terminated. As a lifelong resident and businessman in this community I had sincerely hoped to do something positive for the White Street Landfill neighborhoods, and the people of Greensboro. Those actions no longer appear possible.
In retrospect it is clear that a very painful process has taken place; one that has affected many of my fellow citizens...Given the litigation and associated activities surrounding the recent RFP process it is clear that we have no other palatable option
Rashad Young writes to the Mayor and Council: "Tom [Pollard] and I will confer as to how this impacts tonights (sic) agenda and get back with you. I suspect it renders the necessity for a public hearing null."
Judge denies Gate City request for injunction, Vaughan can vote.
Arguments started around 9:30 this morning in the Guilford County courthouse, wrapped up around 11; Judge Ronald Spivey spent about an hour considering what he'd heard and seen, said the declaratory judgment act -- the legal vehicle used by Gate City -- wasn't applicable under these cicrumstances, and, even if applicable, in this instance case law would not support recusal.
Pollard said Gate City was trying to dictate the outcome of the vote.
From the SCSJ's motion to intervene in the Gate City suit: "Proposed Defendant-Intervenors contend that recusal is inappropriate and that Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan must vote on a proposed contract put forward by Plaintiff to operate Phase III of the White Street Landfill."
The reason the city is where it is as far as using the White Street Landfill for the disposal of Greensboro's garbage is because the opponents of using the landfill filed a successful lawsuit in May blocking the planned use because the city had not complied with state law on opening Phase IV and Phase V.
The reason the city is where it is as far as using the White Street Landfill for the disposal of Greensboro's garbage is because the city had not complied with state law on opening Phase IV and Phase V, leading opponents of using the landfill to file a successful lawsuit in May blocking the planned use.
SCSJ will file a motion to intervene as co-defendant in Gate City's lawsuit, says attorney Chris Brook, on behalf of landfill neighbors, CEEJ, and the League of Women Voters, to defend the position that Vaughan has not just the right but a duty to vote.
I did make a comment that I find it very difficult to consider voting on whether or not someone else should have the right to vote, and thus overruling the Attorney for the City of Greensboro, who has been a municipal attorney for around 30 years, no matter what the topic covers, much less one I have a conflict with.
After a break earlier in the meeting, six members of council reconvened without Thompson, Rakestraw and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade. Rhinoceros Times Editor John Hammer was also outside of chambers...
... Thompson, Rakestraw and Wade rejoined the meeting, looking stone-faced.
I hear Zack told the mini-majority he wouldn't support the coup.
On to the lawsuit!
In light of the drastic measures requested, the apparent lack of statutory support for Councilpersons voting on their peers’ conflicts, the potential policy implications, and the conflicts facing Councilman Matheny should he be forced to vote, I ask you to delay consideration of any motion to excuse Councilwoman Vaughan until September 20.
From an email to the City Attorney from Chris Brook of SCSJ. Full text after the jump.
Word is there may be a vote at tonight's Council meeting to force Vaughan's recusal.
So...elected officials could vote to strip the eligibility of a fellow elected official who already has been deemed eligible to vote by the attorney they hired.
If all Council members can vote on this, then Matheny -- conflicted out of voting on Gate City -- could vote to recuse Vaughan, thus handing the contract to the vendor he's not allowed to vote on. No conflict there!
Sources say Matheny doesn't want to vote, but not voting is pretty much the same as voting to recuse Vaughan, so, man up, Zack, and do your job.
UPDATE: I'm told that if the power play to eliminate Vaughan goes through, then the City Attorney will not be able to represent her in the Gate City suit -- so the mini-majority would not just overrule the legal opinion of their attorney, they'd neuter him in the next round as well.
Such audacity might be cause for a smile if its potential broader implication were not so grave.
SCSJ attorney Christopher Brook's latest letter on the landfill circus.
At this point the logical assumumption is that the N&R has made a conscious decision not to cover this story in detail. Previously, the daily paper decided not to cover the curb market story in detail. So...why are they abdicating the local government beat?
Rhino (as yet unposted) says Nancy Vaughan should be out of the landfill voting again, because Gate City Waste Services has added a proposal to study use of gas from the dump, which would bring her back into conflict via her husband's legal practice.
Apparently a letter sent by GCWS to the City Manager yesterday includes projects not in the RFP.
"Our current method of trash disposal is neither economically sustainable nor acceptable as a long-range plan for Greensboro," begins Danny Thompson's contribution to the N&R's opinion-section landfill debate (important stuff, so of course hidden by the paper in its Google-proof vault and exiled to Labor Day weekend).
Thompson says keeping White Street open for 15 years would give GSO "time to explore waste-to-energy solutions or an equity stake in a regional solution." That may be true, but what if one or both of those things materialize sooner, and we're still stuck with a half-generation-long contract with a private company? The lock-in seems imprudent, especially when the argument is for flexibility.
He also says, "Assets such as a permitted landfill, a transfer station and a large waste stream should be leveraged to negotiate from a position of strength in any regional landfill discussion. A lack of will to utilize such assets only lessens our position to negotiate." True enough, but commiting ourselves to filling up the dump also removes the dump from our list of bargaining chips.
Nancy Vaughan says in her article that we should slow down and consider other options, including a proposal from our current vendor that may promise substantial savings. It is hard for me to see how this is not the conservative and prudent course to pursue.
She says Randolph County is on the way to opening a legit regional landfill, but is not interested in selling an equity stake, and that at least we could negotiate very favorable terms. My take is that saying you don't want to sell something is a good opening position in a negotiation, and that the real money GSO may have to offer could make an equity deal happen.
Vaughan: "If we enter into a contract that ties our hands for five to seven years, we will miss the window of opportunity we have with Randolph County and it will be harder to explore future technological solutions...We will be worse off than we are now — possibly forever. We will forgo any possibility of a true long-term, responsible solution and we will exhaust an asset and turn it into a liability."
With the mini-majority a majority no more and the rush to reopen the landfill all but doomed, Joe sounds the retreat, but hopes to rally soon against the "east Greensboro juggernaut" and its perfidious allies.
Hurt feelings aside, it seems odd to disparage the interim attorney, hired directly by the Council, for being an "outsider" -- don't we want the guy to make dispassionate decisions based on law, not local politics?
Meanwhile, Allen Johnson asks Danny Thompson for some consistency on the landfill issue.
Pollard affirms his decision on Nancy Vaughan's eligibility to vote on White Street.
I have reviewed all of the additional information that I have received from Council Members as well as a letter that I received from Mr. Steven Levitas, the attorney for Gate City. After considering all of this information, I do not see any reason to change my opinion.
Letter to Levitas here; full text of Pollard's memo to Council after the jump.
After candidly acknowledging, "we are not familiar with the details of the Vaughan family's relationship with Waste Industries," Gate City goes on to lob theory after theory aganst the wall in the hope that one will stick. A review of each theory demonstrates they either do not fall within the scope of Greensboro's conflict policies or are unsupported by the facts.
A letter to GSO attorney Tom Pollard from Christopher Brook of the SCSJ, challenging the challenge to Nancy Vaughan's unrecusal on the White Street vote.
John Hammer refers specifically to Bill Knight's behavior at this week's City Council briefing, but it reads like a post-mortem on a political career.
Yes, that's his actual campaign site, as of today (click image to enlarge).
The man leads like an accountant.
A focus on costs is good, as far as it goes, but there's much more to the job.
On a divisive issue like the landfill, the mayor needs to get out in front and lead. Explain the vision and the long-range plan. Speak to the people, in east Greensboro and across the city, and help us understand an opaque process. Be a damn mayor.
John says, "Knight's been mayor for 18 months, and at times it seems he has learned nothing about the political game."
At one point, a lack of political chops might have sounded like a recommendation. Now it sounds like a eulogy.
Council members discussed long-range landfill plans this afternoon. That's a good thing.
With Nancy Vaughan back in the game, the ram-through may well be dead.
Rakestraw and Knight look highly vulnerable come November, but even if both are voted out, Greensboro needs to move ahead with a strategic plan for municipal waste -- one that makes both economic and political sense.
UPDATE: Much more here. "Wade and Knight expressed as an article of faith that private companies can save more money than city staff." Seems like it's worth running the numbers anyway, huh?
UPDATE: Nancy Vaughan says, "I have a legal duty to vote as described by the general statute. I no longer have a financial interest in this project."
She says GSO interim attorney Tom Pollard rendered an opinion after researching the issue, and that the statutes on councilmember voting are very specific.
Vaughan says she doesn't know how she'll vote, but she thinks the process to date has been "amateurish" and needs further deliberation.
Also, she says she's been told there's a move to bring Waste Industries back into the discussion in order to keep her from voting. (Me talking: For the rump majority to reverse itself for such a naked political ploy would be shocking, even after all we've seen.)
Joe reports that Nancy Vaughan may be allowed to vote in the next round of landfill maneuvering. Kind of a big deal if it pans out.
Meanwhile, Vaughan says opening new sections of the landfill would involve zoning changes that could be blocked via protest petitions. UPDATE: Vaughan elaborates on the zoning situation here.
So, anyway, this is the editorial I wanted to talk about, from yesterday's N&R:
The Randolph landfill won’t be built until late 2012 and probably wouldn’t resume taking trash until 2013. So Greensboro still has time for the smart compromise we first suggested in May — and that could address short-term fiscal needs as well as long-term landfill needs: Reopen White Street for the next three to five years, then move to Randolph County for the next 30.
Everybody sacrifices. Everybody wins.
And if GSO can buy an equity stake in the regional landfill with some of the money it saves in the next few years, more better.
Why this wasn't discussed in public by the Council is beyond me. Instead, we've got a political mess that will make even a good long-range solution that much harder to reach.
Marikay Abuzuaiter said from the floor at tonight's Council meeting that emails to the City are running 9-1 against reopening the White Street landfill.
The ratio of speakers in opposition to those in favor tonight was much higher than that. In fact, if there was one in favor, I missed it.
People from across the city (including one in absentia) asked the Council at the least to move more slowly and conduct a more thorough and transparent process. An attorney said regulators will not allow long-term expansion of the site. Questions were raised about the use of private contractors to run the dump, and the uncounted costs of reopening it.
TDBS pointed out that the new RFP has been percolating for all of a week.
The Mayor tells the people who just told him they're concerned not to be concerned, based on his conversations with people in Winston-Salem and Wake County.
Trudy Wade moves to approve a Gate City Waste Services, for only City waste.
Jim Kee says the landfill Knight mentioned in Raleigh is closed. Speaks well at length. Tells the crowd it's not over.
Perkins says he finds it incredible that a vote is being considered after all those eloquent words from the floor. Asks if thought, preparation, and process have been adequate. Says the outcome has been manipulated. "Appalling." Postpone, do research, look into cost savings from other options. What we're doing is the worst-case scenario, using all capacity with no further plan in place.
TDBS motion to table for 90 days, we need to know why third-cheapest bidder is getting the nod.
Thompson: Under scenario proposed by Wade -- City only trash -- GCWS is actually second-cheapest.
Perkins: Need an explanation for that vendor, or will vote to postpone and and investigate.
Motion to postpone fails 3-4.
TDBS asks, don't we usually look at lowest responsible bid.
Manager says evaluation includes more than price.
TDBS says, are we in a position to vote without knowing what went into that decision?
Wade's motion passes 4-3.
Earlier, the full Council unanimously voted to grant incentives to HondaJet. That was a nice moment, but it didn't last long.
The Thompson landfill plan, still gestating, is generating much buzz behind the scenes in official GSO.
A successful plan will need broad buy-in, on the Council and across the city. To get there, some trust issues are going to have to be resolved. You won't achieve that with promises, but with guarantees, and a broad, generational vision that can withstand hard questions from all directions.
A win on this issue could be a game-changer for Greensboro. But like the light bulb in the joke, we have to want to change.
Just had lunch with Danny Thompson. Stamey's on Battleground, if you care. Anyway, it was a lunch conversation, not an interview, so I won't go into details, but he says he'll post to his website a plan for reopening the White Street landfill, and I think that plan could be a winner.
Something I thought while watching a speaker from the floor at a recent Council meeting: Saying the landfill should never have been closed is like complaining about the weather. The landfill was closed. All discussions need to start from that reality, not from what might have been.
Also, one way to address mistrust in (and beyond) the neighborhood is to...address it. Talk about it, in public. Don't just lecture people about dollars and the good of the whole city, listen.
The rump majority of the City Council sat with stony faces last night as speaker after speakerimplored them not to divide Greensboro by ramming through another attempt to reopen the White Street dump to municipal waste.
Then they voted to do it.
At this point, due diligence is barely paid lip service, and consensus building is not even a consideration.
Wade and Rakestraw can at least claim to be representing their districts, although there's some chance Rakestraw may learn otherwise in November.
But Thompson and Knight were elected to serve the entire city, and it's abundantly clear that they are not doing any such thing.
Thompson said he believed that a regional landfill, probably in Rockingham County, was the long-term solution. He said, "We can forget about Phase IV and V." He added that a regional landfill would allow the city to close White Street, which he described as "an eyesore inside the city limits."
Robbie Perkins has been saying much the same thing, give or take the short-term use of White Street, since, like, forever.
And when he and I discussed the landfill at Stamey's last summer, Thompson himself seemed open to a more accommodating approach to the White Street neighborhood (or, as his blogging BFF sneers,"the east Greensboro crowd").
Don't know that any usage would fly with the neighbors, but the short-term/long-term approach might have been worth a try much earlier in this poorly-played game.
For this plan for the White Street dump to fly, the garbage companies would have to like the numbers on Greensboro-only trash,which is a big question I've yet to see answered.
Also, the sacred 15-year contract would be iffy, and permits that are relatively easy to obtain in theory would have to be attained under legal crossfire, and the details would have to be worked out very quickly.
The political costs of escalating this fight even further might give people pause, too.
By rushing the project and scrimping on due diligence, the Council may well have made this a now-or-never project. If it turns out to be never, the people who pushed hardest deserve a big share of the blame.