Republican Judge Rules Against Citizens In Landfill Case

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Commissioners Court, Had Enough Yet?, Hutto, Landfill, Williamson County at 12:56 pm by wcnews

It should come as no surprise that Republican District Judge Burt Carnes took the corporations side in his ruling, which came out late Friday, on the landfill contract dispute between Williamson County and Waste Management, Inc. (WMI). At issue was whether the county’s contract to operate the landfill is void since it was not competitively bid. Compare what the WMI lawyer said in April:

Robert Heath, an attorney representing Waste Management, said Monday that the contract is neither a lease or a purchase. Because Waste Management collects money generated from the landfill and then gives it to the county, Heath said it does not have to be bid out.

To what Judge Carnes said in his ruling:

The contract is not a purchase and, therefore, not covered by the County Purchasing Act. It is not a lease because it does not convey and interest in land and , therefore, not covered by Chapter 262 of the Local Government Code.

This ruling stretches logic to it’s breaking point. It’s obvious that WMI is purchasing or leasing the right to profit from it’s operations at the landfill. And in the interest of fairness a competitive bidding process would not just be logical, but right.

But it’s not just logic and fairness that’s being stretched. This ruling is stretching the patience of many citizens in Williamson County. It’s also destroying the faith many Williamson County citizens put in the elected officials of this county to do what’s right. What has continued to confound the citizens of this county is the timid and passive response of the elected officials regarding this issue. Just looking at the landfill deal and comparing it to deals or other counties around Texas, it becomes clear what a bad deal Williamson County agreed to in it’s contract for landfill operations. And the renegotiated contract from last year wasn’t much better, (see analysis here [.pdf]). Why the county is so unwilling to fight, as the citizens want them to, for a better deal has lead many to speculate about their true motives.

It’s that unwillingness to fight for what’s right that is souring many in this county on it’s leaders. The county only reluctantly decided to fight in this case. And that was after the county attorney’s office withdrew from the case. Not even wanting to fight for those that elected them to do so. Essentially abdicating their role as the citizens representative in this fight. Then the county did not want the Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) or anyone else joining them in this fight. Going so far as to challenge their inclusion. As the HCG notes in their statement [.doc] on the ruling, Judge Carnes did not rule on the specifics of the contract – whether or not it was a good deal. He just ruled on whether the contract must be competitively bid.

In his ruling, Judge Carnes began by noting that “the issue is not whether the Court approves of the contract or the specific terms of the contract ….” The Judge did not rule that the terms of the contract are approved, validated, justified, appropriate, or even fair. His ruling (with which we disagree) simply says that the contract is not void on competitive bidding grounds. Clearly, the county continues to have the option of addressing the specific terms of the contract, including terminating the contract , especially in light of the fact that, in our view, Waste Management now has shown its true intentions regarding making the landfill a super-regional facility (and for other reasons as well). And, the county continues to have the option of asking TCEQ to remand its permit expansion application to SOAH so that WMI’s name can be removed from the draft permit as “Operator,” or even to stop the permit application.

Again, while Judge Carnes’ ruling was not a surprise, what continues to surprise the citizens is the unwillingness of those they elected to fight for them. With this ruling the Commissioners Court will now try and make it seem they’ve done all they can. They will, more than likely, accept a renegotiated contract with WMI in the near future, essentially accepting defeat. The contract will be a boon for WMI. Some citizens will accept the court’s excuse, many more won’t. But that’s the price we are all paying, and will continue to pay, for one party unaccountable government in Williamson County.

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