Editor's Note: Will new Solid Waste Authority Board do its job?

By Richard Wiens, The Triplicate March 27, 2013 05:52 pm

The board of the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority has work to do, starting at its meeting this afternoon.

Let’s hope the two county supervisors recently appointed to the board take that work seriously. For the last four years the county has seemed to play games with the agency tasked with overseeing the collection and hauling of waste and recyclables throughout Del Norte while also answering to the state over the environmental monitoring of the closed Crescent City Landfill.

The new members, Mike Sullivan and Roger Gitlin, are among the majority of county supervisors who have long questioned whether the authority should exist. They’ve implied there must be a more efficient way to oversee Del Norte’s waste, but four years of assessment have yet to produce a viable alternative.

Back in 2009, Sullivan was appointed to chair an ad hoc committee tasked with determining whether the authority should be disbanded.

Said Sullivan at the time: “We’re really going to have to go through the numbers, and if there’s a potential savings without a lapse in service then we’ll have to consider (dissolution).”

Alas, the committee completed its work without recommending dissolution. Then in late 2011 Sullivan and Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen called for creation of a new ad hoc committee to study, you guessed it, dissolution.

The Crescent City Council, a partner with the county in the joint powers agreement that created the authority, understandably made some noise about the county proposing to take the lead for the second time in forming a panel to study the authority’s viability. So instead of another ad hoc committee, all five City Council members and all five supervisors created a super-board of 10 members in October 2011 to oversee the authority.

This gave city and county officials another chance to determine if the authority represents the best way to oversee Del Norte’s waste and recycling. Instead, said Hemmingsen, “we spent a year as a 10-member board and just floundered back and forth chasing our tail.”

In other words, a second concerted effort to devise a better alternative also failed.

The 10-member configuration expired at the end of last year. County supervisors who want to get rid of the authority — if only they could figure out how — have switched to a more passive-aggressive strategy of late, failing for quite awhile to appoint two county members to what should have been a new five-member board up and running as of Jan. 1.

The board went almost four months without meeting, and tasks started piling up, including abandoned vehicles that could not be hauled away until a new towing contractor was chosen.

Finally the four supervisors who want the authority to go bye-bye were forced to appoint new members in mid-March, their hands forced by the fifth supervisor, Martha McClure, after she joined two city-appointed members in reconstituting the authority board. Its attorney opined that McClure had that power since she was on the authority board the last time it had just five members and her fellow supervisors had never replaced her.

McClure has argued that if the county withdraws from the joint powers authority agreement with the city, the county could lose the asset of the transfer station while becoming solely responsible for liabilities of the closed landfill. She also has said collection fees, currently the same countywide, could shoot up in outlying areas without an authority.

There’s also the matter of long-term pickup and hauling contracts that private companies signed with the authority, locking in rates.

Frankly, the four supervisors calling for dissolution have failed to make a case with similar specifics to support their view. But they have scheduled a May meeting with their city counterparts, presumably to again push for replacing the agency with, something…

In the meantime, Sullivan and Gitlin today join the board of an authority they wish didn’t exist. Will they bother conducting its business?

 There are serious agenda items, including approval of inspections of water in wells near the closed landfill necessary to prevent the state from reinstating higher fees for Del Norte based on perceived environmental threats. Meanwhile, franchisees Recology Del Norte and Hambro are seeking cost-of-living service fee increases as stipulated in their contracts.

On the consent agenda is a 5 percent raise for authority Director Kevin Hendrick as a result of his completing 20 years of service and receiving a satisfactory performance evaluation by last year’s 10-member board.

The salaries of Hendrick and his top assistant, Tedd Ward, seem to be at least part of what troubles opponents of the authority, which tends to break even financially without levying taxes. Maybe they can figure out a way to do something about the pay issue besides continuing to push for outright dissolution.

City-appointed board members Rich Enea and Rick Holley say they have open minds about the authority. Somehow, they’ll need to agree with Sullivan and Gitlin on whom to appoint from the public as a fifth member who may be called upon to cast frequent tie-breaking votes. 

The meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. at the Flynn Center, 981 H St. Let’s see who shows up to actually do the work of overseeing our waste and recycling issues.