Solid Waste Authority seeks legal advice on staff cuts

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate August 13, 2014 03:13 pm

The Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority Board is considering permanent cuts to staffing levels at the agency that handles all trash and recycling issues in the county, but first it has to determine what’s legal.

The authority board is expected to ask their legal counsel for an analysis regarding what can be pursued to merge positions, partially privatize or otherwise restructure authority staffing during its monthly meeting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Flynn Center (981 H St., Crescent City).

“It’s about what can a board do legally in regard to certain options,” said authority chairman and Del Norte County Supervisor Roger Gitlin, referring to the options outlined by R3 Consulting Group in its recent assessment of the authority. “When you start merging positions it can get complicated, and I don’t want to overstep my bounds as chairman, so we’re asking for an analysis from our legal counsel.”

In March, the authority’s legal counsel, Martha Rice, told board members that a recent court decision regarding the outsourcing of certain city employees in Costa Mesa could affect the authority’s ability to privatize some positions: “A fair interpretation is that the (Costa Mesa court) opinion set the stage for a victory by the employees, which will severely restrict the ability of cities (and the authority) to contract out basic services,” Rice’s March memo said.

R3’s report, released in May and commissioned by the authority for more than $30,000, acknowledges that staffing levels were not in the consultant’s limited scope of study: “‘What are appropriate management and administrative staffing levels for the Authority’” was not specifically asked and regardless cannot be definitively answered at this point.” 

Yet, the options for cutting staff suggested by R3 continues to be used as a framework for restructuring the agency. 

“Whether they were tasked to do it or not, they put it in the report,” Gitlin said by phone on Monday.

Gitlin and fellow board members Mike Sullivan and Mary Wilson have said they support  combining the authority’s top two administrative positions into one contract position for the private sector and scaling back the pursuit of new recycling programs.

Authority board members Ron Gastineau and Rick Holley have both said they support moving forward with the recruitment of a permanent director, and several community members have harshly criticized the board for not hiring a new director.

The roles of both the authority’s executive director and its program manager have been filled by Tedd Ward since the former director was forced into retirement by the board last summer, and Ward has said that many tasks are not getting completed due to his workload.

Accusations of ideological motives behind privatization efforts have been made by community members during public comment at board meetings and in letters on the Triplicate’s opinion page, but Gitlin said that the Tea Party doctrine he espouses has not contributed to his Solid Waste Authority actions.

“I believe in saving money. I believe that whatever benefits the taxpayer is good,” Gitlin said. “I happen to believe that the private model can be very successful.”

Gitlin said his true motivation for being slow or “deliberate” in the decision on how — if ever — to hire a new director comes from the discovery of $29,000 in missing authority funds, which prompted the assessment by R3 and prompted the board to force an early retirement for former director Kevin 
Hendrick.

“He was the (executive director) and ultimately he was responsible for that department,” Gitlin said.

A forensic report by an outside auditor and an investigation conducted by the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office did not produce enough evidence to lead to any charges for the Solid Waste missing funds.

Gitlin said that careful consideration on how to move forward with the agency is needed to keep malfeasance from happening again.

“It is incredibly shocking to me that no one seems to pay much attention to the missing $29,000,” Gitlin said. “I certainly don’t want to see a repeat of any missing money.”

R3’s report states that before any staffing decisions are made, the authority board should first decide the direction and goals of the agency.

“Which option is best depends in part on the long range solid waste management goals and objectives that the Authority establishes, as well as staffing related policy goals,” the report states.

Toward that end, the authority will hold a strategic options / goal-setting workshop at 2 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Crescent Fire Protection District building (255 W. Washington Blvd., Crescent City). The workshop, which will likely be facilitated by Terry Supahan, will give everyone equitable space to express their thoughts, including audience members, according to Supahan.

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it