Via the Williamson County Public Policy Coalition (WCPPC), Landfill money which benefits Hutto ISD
resulted from citizen involvement in contract [.pdf]. As the WCPPC press release points out none of this would have been possible without the direct and consistent Hutto area citizen involvement, for several years, in shaping the new landfill contract in Williamson County.
If the Williamson County commissioners court votes to convey $45,000 from a special landfill fund to the
Hutto ISD through the Hutto Education Foundation on May 11 (agenda item 14), the beneficiaries have numerous citizens to thank.
As the county’s revised landfill agreement was being debated in 2008 and early 2009, the Hutto City Council (HCC), the Hutto Citizens Group (HCG), the Williamson County Public Policy Coalition (WCPPC) and numerous citizens sought benefits for east Williamson County and especially Hutto—the areas most adversely affected by the landfill.
The initial drafts of the contract which were released to the public in February of 2009 contained no benefits for the Hutto area, but when the “final” draft was presented and passed on March 3, 2009, after a strong citizen push, the contract contained the provision for the Hutto ISD to get one percent of the landfill tipping fees—31 cents per ton.
“No one looks a gift horse in the mouth, whatever the amount,” said Kurt Johnson, Sr., staffer for the WCPPC and a member of the HCG, “and citizens are pleased that the Hutto ISD is finally receiving a belated benefit. But it’s important to note that without the continued pressure and input from citizens aimed at commissioners court, this amount, small though it may be, would never have made it into the contract.”
Actions by the Hutto City Council were included in the focused citizen and stakeholder effort to derive
mitigating benefits from the county to offset the adverse consequences of the landfill’s location four miles north of Hutto. On December 18, 2008, the Council unanimously passed a motion which insisted that the county not continue with the permit application to expand the landfill in the absence of an ironclad Master Site Plan to protect Hutto. Voting in favor of that resolution were Ken Love, Tina Slaton, Debbie Holland, Ronnie Quintanilla-Perez, David Begier, Jason Wirth and Felix Madrid.
A long list of HCG members worked on getting the funds for Hutto into the contract along with seeking other provisions to protect and benefit the greater Hutto area. That list of members includes Felix Madrid, Jason Wirth, Mahlon Arnett, Cindy Allen-Lott, Ken Kincaid, Betty Sun, Weldon Copeland, Jeff Maurice, Deann Tidwell, Kurt Johnson, Sr., Mike Fowler, Jerry Tidwell, Mark Lidell, Charles Shell, Hugh Tidwell, Robbie Arnett, Orlynn Evans, and numerous others. In July of 2008, some 150 citizens crowded into the Hutto Lutheran Church parish hall to discuss options for the landfill. County representatives were invited, but did not attend.
“If you’re looking for someone to thank for Hutto’s funding, the people on that HCG are a good place to
start,” Johnson said.
The WCPPC also points out the the county continues to drag their feet on holding the operator responsible for meeting certain provisions of the contract, and the citizens are continuing to call them out on this.
The politicians on the Commissioners Court, and the corporation that’s operating the landfill, would never have done this on if they were not pressured to do do. But, of course, that is not stopping them for trying to take credit.
Over the last several years no issue has crystallized the Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) and it’s, if not corruption, at least tone deafness to the public and hypocrisy, more than the controversy surrounding the new landfill contract between the WCCC and Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) (To read about it just click on “Landfill” under categories donw the right side of this blog).
When the landfill contract was signed in March 2009 a requirement of the contract was that WMI had to meet certain criteria withing the first year. Specifically they were supposed to present a Master Site Development Plan and a Master Recycling Plan within that time. We find out from this memo [.pdf] from the Williamson County Public Policy Coalition (WCPPC) sent to Williamson County Commissioners Court that this requirement was not met:
On March 9, 2010, Williamson County Commissioners Court “accepted” a hypothetical “report” without approving or disapproving the Master Site Development Plan (MSDP) and Master Recycling Plan (MRP) from Waste Management of Texas (WMTX, or Contractor) submitted for the Williamson County Landfill. Submission of the plans at the end of the first contract year (which began on March 3, 2009) was a requirement of the Landfill Operating Agreement (LOA) approved by commissioners court on March 3, 2009.
The memo further states:
The LOA contains this requirement for the MSDP in Section 2.16 (Page 21): “Within one (1) year of the Effective Date, Contractor (Waste Management of Texas) shall development a Master Site Development Plan for the Landfill. Within (12) months of the date of County’s approval of the Master Site Development Plan, Contractor shall begin implementation of the Master Site Development Plan for the Landfill in accordance with the agreed upon timelines set forth in the Plan.”
This statement makes it clear that the Contractor is to submit its full and complete plan for review by the county, not a partial or incomplete plan. In addition, there must be “timelines set forth in the Plan.”
Wait until you read the excuse the corporations attorney gives for not having these plans done on time:
The plan as submitted contains no “timelines”. In addition, Steve Jacobs, the Contractor’s representative, admitted in commissioners court on March 9 that the plan is incomplete. Jacobs stated:1 “We have a lot of other information that may not have made it into the plan simply because it gets too complicated and too hard for me to write it.”
The MSDP cannot properly be evaluated by members of commissioners court or by citizens if it lacks completeness and the required timelines. The LOA makes no provision for submitting a partial or incomplete plan in meeting the specific provision of the LOA. If, as stated by Jacobs, the Contractor is incapable of submitting a complete plan because it “gets too complicated” and is “too hard” to write, then the Contractor obviously cannot perform on the contract. At the very least, such failure to perform is a contract default.
Really? And our WCCC took that excuse and let it pass!! For a bunch who thinks corporations can always do it better, we can only imagine the outrage if words like that would have been spoken by a government employee, instead of a corporate mouthpiece.
It’s encouraged that all residents of Williamson County read the entire WCPPC memo on this issue. The county has essentially allowed WMI to miss this deadline, without any retribution, by submitting a “report” that falls way short of the plans they were required to submit. Needless to say, as in most dealings with the WCCC, the public has been left in the dark as to what the WCCC has been doing on this issue.
However, it also is clear from the discussion at commissioners court on March 9 that representatives of commissioners court participated with the Contractor in working on the plan in a secret, non-public process prior to its release.
The WCPPC also list four key issues moving forward.
- Adequate notice and forum format
- Consideration of complete and not partial plans
- The county’s responsibility in processing plans
- The county’s responsibility in the public discussion of the plans
It should come as no surprise that the WCCC would let WMI slide on a requirement of the contract. This action will only bolster the perception many have of the court and it’s penchant for secrecy and backroom dealing when it comes to its dealings with WMI. During contract negotiations how the WCCC treated WMI was controversial and seemed hypocritical. It’s perceived that the WCCC believes in the free market, is pro-business competition, and “conservative”. When they negotiated the new contract without a competitive bidding process, which went against their beliefs, it makes people wonder. Instead the perception now is that the WCCC will bend over backwards to accommodate WMI, at the expense of the residents and tax payers in Williamson County. And this current action will only further that perception.
Two letters to the editor (LTE) have been published this week about the county’s proposed master site plan for the county landfill.
First this one from the RRL, Landfill oversight stinks.
The controversial contact between the county and WMI, to run the landfill – which was passed on March 3, 2009 – provides for the county to “hire a qualified and independent Oversight Inspector,” and the contract requires WMI to contribute $50,000 toward paying for that service.
After a seven-month delay following approval of that contract, the county finally issued the RFP to hire the inspector, and apparently four firms responded by the Nov. 4, 2009 deadline. After almost a year has passed, no oversight inspector has been chosen.
A county source told media – and it was duly reported – that the county received proposals for this oversight inspector “totaling upwards of $200,000 a year.”
That figure is more than suspect. There is no way the equivalent of one full-time job, even if performed by a qualified engineer, should cost that much.
Either the county did a terrible job in constructing the Request for Proposal, or in trying to negotiate a final contract – or both.
But, in ether case, the $200,000 figure doesn’t speak well for the county’s ability to oversee the landfill or perform effective fiscal management.
This letter was signed by both Democratic candidates for county commissioner Jeff Maurice (Precinct 4) and Jim Stauber (Precinct 2).
Also this one from Maurice in the Taylor Daily Press, Regarding your March 14 article, “Commissioners consider WM master plan”.
Over a year ago, Hutto-area residents were hopeful that the process of developing the master site plan and master recycling plan for the Wilco landfill would finally present an opportunity for the community to have long-promised meaningful dialogue with the county on ways to address the landfill’s negative impact on local economic development and quality of life. Instead, for the past year, these plans have been drafted without any public input. The notion that the county just wanted to create a starting point for discussion (and that it took a year to do so) is laughable. The starting point was apparent to everyone a year ago.
These proposed plans contain very little that is new or innovative. Worse, they still fail to address the community’s main concerns about the negative effects of the landfill height (as tall as the Jonah water tower) and its massive 575 acre footprint. Colorful graphics of a new “entrance” with a few trees and a new sign may make for good press, but they don’t come close to addressing the real issues. Even those parts of the plans that appear to offer benefits are short on detail and lack any commitment whatsoever.
There’s much more in both letters and you can read EOW’s previous reporting on the landfill master plan here.
It’s looking like nothing has changed as far as the Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC), Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) and the county landfill are concerned. Last year when the new landfill contract was signed between the county and WMI part of the agreement was that within a year the Master Site Plan and Master Recycling Plan be developed. These plans were presented at the Tuesday March 9th WCCC meeting, and as yet, have had no public input or scrutiny.
In advance of the meeting the Williamson County Public Policy Coalition (WCPPC) recommended that the commissioners not accept the plans submitted on Tuesday. They would like them to wait until “..there has been time for the WCPPC and interested citizens to study the plan AND subsequent public forums or workshops to be held which provide the public the opportunity to dialogue with members of commissioners court about both plans”.
That seems like a reasonable request. But we know that the WCCC doesn’t care much for involving the citizenry in the decisions in this county once they’re elected. Anyone who owns land or a home can understand that those who live closest to the landfill have a stake or vested interest in that land, and should be allowed to be part of the planning of the landfill. It would also seem that our elected officials would want to work with these people to make the plan as beneficial as possible to all involved.
From last year, via the WCPPC [PDF], the question of public meetings and input was posed to Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison:
The contract calls for a master site plan to be developed for the landfill within a year of signing the contract this past March. Will there be public meetings to receive input from the public regarding the structuring of that site plan? If not, why not?
Morrison’s answer: “ … a master site plan will be developed for the landfill. Public input will be sought on the master site plan.”
Morrison’s response ducks the question regarding whether there will be public meetings to discuss structuring the site plan. And he doesn’t even commit to a process of reasonable dialogue about the process—only that citizens will provide “input”. The absence of real discussion has been a longstanding problem with regard to landfill issues, including the process by which the present contract was devised. “Input” is not the same as having a seat at the table with real two-way dialogue and compromise.
On Tuesday the WCCC did not approve either plan but instead formally received them. This action by the commissioners court, and the related comments during the discussion, caused the WCPPC to raise numerous questions [PDF] about the plans and the planning process thus far. Several are listed here:
- When will the public forums to discuss these plans be held?
- If no specific dates are designated now, what is the specific time frame within which they will be held?
- Inasmuch as the county did not “approve” the plans on March 9, why was it necessary to formally “receive” the plans?
- Why has there been no public discussion on this issue during the past year?
- What has kept that from happening?
- Why has it taken so long to get to this point?
- Why were citizens not invited to participate in those “working jointly” discussions so that substantive issues could have been processed before Waste Management rolled out its “official” plan to comply with the contract?
- What is the position of each county commissioner regarding the plans’ contents?
The WCCC appears to be repeating the same disturbing cycle of ignoring the citizenry. Thus far the WCCC has not changed how it will proceed with the landfill and WMI, in relation to the people they represent. At this point it doesn’t appear they have an interest in working with the people who live near the landfill, or the citizens of this county, to come up with a plan that everyone can live with. We will have to wait and see if only token input is sought, or if once the public gets their chance if any of their ideas will be implemented.
Plans presented at Tuesdays meeting, all are [PDF]:
Master Recycling Plan.
Master Site Development Plan.
Here’s the statement from the Williamson County Public Policy Coalition about the landfill Master Site Plan and Master Recycling Plan which are on Tuesday’s agenda of commissioners court:
“The Williamson County Public Policy Coalition emphatically urges the Williamson County Commissioners Court NOT TO TAKE ACTION to accept or approve the Williamson County landfill Master Site Plan or Master Recycling Plan on Tuesday, March 9 until after there has been time for the WCPPC and interested citizens to study the plan AND subsequent public forums or workshops to be held which provide the public the opportunity to dialogue with members of commissioners court about both plans.”
One of the members of the WCPPC, the Hutto Citizens Group will be holding an meeting on Tuesday March 9th.
As per the direction of the officers and directors of the Hutto Citizens Group, the next meeting of the HCG will be held on Tuesday, March 9, at the Hutto Lutheran Church parish hall in Hutto, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
It’s fine to partake of self-carry-in for meeting refreshments. However, if that’s the case, it might be wise to bring a bit more than you would consume yourself.
There are no lengthy items anticipated for discussion, but you never know. The agenda for this session is open and flexible as the HCG catches up on recent news and then moves forward.
The HCG is branding itself as “Serving the greater Hutto area”. Variations of a logo to that effect will be presented at the meeting for consideration. The scope of projects for the upcoming months also will be discussed.
DIRECTIONS TO HUTTO LUTHERAN [MAP]: From US 79 in Hutto go NORTH on FM 1660 (the intersection is located between the pawn shop on the east and the Hippoplex Auto on the west) and take the THIRD RIGHT. Hutto Lutheran is one block ahead.
Please invite your friends and neighbors, especially Hutto citizens and business owners.
The Coupland Civic Organization hosted several candidates on Monday at the Fellowship Hall of St. Peter’s Church of Coupland. Candidates at the forum included the three candidates for Judge of the County Court-at-Law #3, Republicans Doug Arnold and Judge Randall Pick and Democrat Allyson Rowe. Also speaking were Jeff Maurice, Democratic candidate for Precinct 4 Williamson County Commissioner, and incumbent and unopposed GOP Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Judy Schier Hobbs. (Maurice’s opponent in November, GOP incumbent Ron Morrison was invited and did not attend).
The Maurice campaign sent his prepared statement from the forum, which is linked below. In it he states he’s running because he “believe[s] in TRANSPARENCY, in LEADERSHIP, and in ACCOUNTABILITY”, which Precinct 4 is currently lacking.
Like many of my neighbors and friends, over the last three and a half years, I have become frustrated by the lack of leadership, initiative and effectiveness of our current commissioner, Ron Morrison.
He then goes on to cite several examples of Morrison’s non-involvement in key issues in Precinct 4 over the course of his term – the new landfill contract, transmission lines in Hutto, and county budget officer issue. But equally as bad is the neglect Morrison has shown to Eastern Williamson County.
Have you noticed the difference in the money spent on county parks when comparing the east side of the county to the west side of the county? Tens of millions of dollars from park bonds—again more debt—are spent on the west side of the county, with only a pittance going to the east side of the county. Where is the leadership from this precinct which helps us see a return on the taxes we pay—especially as compared to other parts of the county?
Maurice finishes by stating how he will differ from his opponent.
Whether we are talking about the transmission lines that are about to deface the Hutto area, having the county judge sit illegally as the county budget officer, holding the line on property taxes and on spending, running the landfill in a legal and proper way, raising the necessary questions about roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, or even merely being responsive to constituents and discussing their issues, I am a clear choice in contrast to my opponent.
This is not news for the constituents of Precinct 4. Morrison has been virtually invisible as a commissioner, and a rubber stamp for whatever County Judge Dan Gattis wants. I encourage all who reside in Precinct 4 to read the full statement here [PDF].
As readers of EOW know the Williamson County Landfill has been a sad and sore subject for many in Williamson County over the last several years, (just click here to find out). That’s why seeing this is extremely disheartening, WM sues county, Landfill operator arguing public information request. What started out as a simple request for public information has been turned into a proverbial “federal case” by the corporation that now runs the landfill owned by Williamson County.
Disposal company Waste Management has filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Williamson County to try and keep information from being given out as part a Public Information Act request, saying it is an attempt by a direct competitor to gain a competitive advantage against the county landfill operator.
The request, filed by Hutto resident Kurt Johnson, is asking for “the sequentially-numbered tickets showing the individual loads of solid waste disposal events at the Williamson County Landfill for the full business day of July 14.” Johnson contends that WM may be using tactics “for its own substantial benefit.”
In essence what Johnson is trying to get at is whether WMI is, “creating a situation of self-dealing”. WMI contends that giving out information such as discounted tipping fees are “trade secrets”. From Johnson’s press release [.pdf]:
Johnson said he submitted the public information request after analyzing general financial information about the landfill and determined that the total reported revenues and tonnage only made sense if the tipping fees charged to commercial haulers were unbelievably low.
“If those substantial discounts are really happening,” Johnson said, “it’s a problem not only because the
landfill is a public asset owned by the county. It’s also a major problem because WMI gets to charge any lowball rate it wants to its own hauling company for waste deposited in the county’s landfill, creating a situation of self-dealing.”
Johnson continued, “The fact that WMI can determine the charges to its own hauling company shows
one of the major flaws in the landfill contract to which the county agreed back in March, and another major flaw is that WMI is trying to keep the financial information about a public landfill secret while no one representing the county is willing to step up and do anything about it.”
According to WMI’s lawsuit, the claim for non-release is being made based on the argument that the
discounted tipping fees are “trade secrets.”
“That argument would work if the county didn’t own the landfill,” Johnson said. “If WMI owned the landfill, then there would be no opening to even make the public information request.” According to Johnson, both current Attorney General Greg Abbot and former Attorney General John Cornyn have issued previous opinions stating the the public has a right to obtain such information.
Johnson added, “It’s going to be very interesting to see whether Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison
—whose precinct is home to the landfill—is willing to stand up and be an advocate for having this information released to his constituents. It also will be interesting to see whether Morrison and other members of commissioners court are willing to accept accountability for the provision in the landfill contract which made this kind of self-dealing possible without public scrutiny.”
The county, County Attorney Jana Duty’s office in particular, is responsible for not getting the requsest to WMI in time, (see here [.pdf]). The county and our elected leaders have had little to say at this point. With election season upon us the county’s elected officials can’t be happy that the landfill is again in the news for the wrong reasons. Many voters are waiting to see whose side those in elected office will be on. The side of the people or the side of the corporation.
More below in the extended entry:
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Via AAS, Despite setback, opponents of landfill contract vow to continue fight.
A group of citizens opposed to the expansion of a landfill north of Hutto vowed on Friday that the fight over the validity of a contract to operate it is not over despite a major setback in court the day before.
A group of citizens, however, including the Hutto Citizens Group, appealed the ruling.
The court of appeals on Thursday ruled that because the 2003 contract had ended, claims that it is invalid are moot.
Jeff Maurice, a member of the citizen’s group, said the group could take the issue to the Texas Supreme Court or file a lawsuit claiming the new contract between the county and Waste Management is invalid because of a lack of competitive bidding.
“In terms of our next steps, we have at least a couple,” Maurice said. “By no means is it over.”
He points out that the court dismissed the case because the 2003 contract was no longer in effect, as opposed to ruling on whether it was valid in the first place.
Opponents of the expansion say the large size of the landfill will have a negative effect on economic development and quality of life in Hutto.
The Hutto Citizens Group, Mahlon Arnett, Robbie Arnett and TJFA L.P. are listed as appellants in the opinion released Thursday.
The new contract was not competitively bid. It was actually more a reworking of the previous contract as opposed to a whole new contract. Maybe the court should have taken that into consideration? Either way the our county elected officials concerns for a corporation over it’s citizens still shines through.
It looks like they essentially ruled not to rule on the validity of the 2003 contract. Since there’s a new contract in place, the 2003 contract is no longer binding, therefore it’s a moot point. Via the AAS.
Opponents of the landfill expansion had sued the county, saying that a 2003 contract between the county and Waste Management of Texas, which runs the landfill, was not properly authorized. They also asked for an order declaring the contract to be void and for an injunction against the performance of the contract.
But because the county signed a new contract with Waste Management, the court of appeals ruled that the opponents claims were moot since the 2003 contract had ended, according the court’s written opinion.
Here’s the link to the county’s news release.
In an opinion by Justice G. Alan Waldrop, joined by Justices Pemberton and Henson, the court dismissed the appeal as “moot,” because the 2003 contract was terminated by agreement of the parties and replaced by a new contract in 2009. Since a determination about the 2003 contract cannot affect anyone’s rights today, it would be pointless to review Judge Carnes’ ruling.
Now it’s time to start fighting at the ballot box.
Anyone who followed the contract negotiations between Williamson County and Waste Management, Inc. over the last couple of years, regarding a new contract for the county landfill, knows the “Operator” issue was a main sticking point. The issue went to who would have the final say regarding what happened at the county landfill. Local control versus corporate control of the county owned landfill. It was a main reason the Hutto Citizens Group had such a problem with the landfill.
The Hutto Citizens Group, in conjunction with the Two Bush Community Group and the Texas Campaign for the Environment, have a press release [.pdf] on a bill to correct this which has stalled in a house committee.
According to representatives of citizens groups, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has begun implementing a policy involving publicly-owned municipal solid waste landfills which risks transferring control of those facilities to private companies. Grassroots advocates say that state legislation is needed now to protect the public from trash permits going awry.
According to Jeff Maurice, chairman of the Hutto Citizens Group’s landfill committee, Senate Bill 2235 which has already passed the Texas Senate to fix the problem has stalled in the House because the chairman of the Environmental Regulation Committee, Rep. Byron Cook, won’t call the bill up for a committee vote even though it appears that a majority of the committee supports the bill.
The essential provision of SB 2235 simply defines the term “Operator” in the Texas Health & Safety Code. It ensures the same meaning of a solid waste facility’s “Operator” as has been used for the past three decades,” Maurice said. “This clarification in the bill is important, because it ensures that
the holder of the permit remains in charge of the permit and that a valuable, publicly-owned asset is not transferred to the ownership and control of a private entity without adequate compensation. This is not an internal squabble among trash companies as Chairman Cook alleges.”
Looking at who testified in the Senate committee on this bill (SB 2235) shows similar fault lines as the landfill fight in Williamson County. More from the release:
According to [Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment], this vulnerability that could put contractors in charge of publicly owned landfills can only be fixed by the legislature passing SB 2235. “It looks like TCEQ is willing to do whatever the influential solid waste companies want,” Schneider said, “so the only recourse left is for the legislature to cure the problem. Unfortunately, Rep. Cook is thwarting the will of a majority of his own committee using a power tactic which he previously has said he detests.”
Schneider continued, “It’s a simple fix to make sure that a practice which was in place for some 30 years isn’t compromised by this changed practice at TCEQ. It would correct the interpretation of the law by TCEQ and insure that such an extremely valuable public asset is not taken for the benefit of a private company who is only a landfill contractor and private companies don’t attempt to hide behind local governments when they are proposing new trash facilities.”
It would certainly be best for the taxpayers of Williamson County to keep the landfill in the county’s control. Once the people of Williamson County get accountability on the commissioners court again we will need that local control.
Contact Rep. Bryon Cook and the House Environmental Regulation Committee to urge action on this SB 2235.
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