When it came to a resolution to decide whether to extend the waste management contract with Recology or develop a request for proposal (RFP), the Feb. 6 Hollister City Council meeting turned into a perplexing and somewhat confusing exercise in small town political machinations.
The contract between Recology and the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) expires June 30, 2018. An RFP would put out a bid to other waste management companies. What might appear to be a simple matter of voting for one or the other proved to be anything but simple.
The resolution had been delayed twice in the past few weeks. The first time was because Councilman Raymond Friend was absent and the rest of the council split the vote, 2-2, and it failed to carry. The resolution was then brought back a second time Feb. 6, but the council decided the best course of action was to hand it off to a subcommittee to study, and then bring it back for a third time for a vote.
The only problem was, no one was quite sure which waste management committee was involved, who the members were, or if any committee meetings had ever taken place.
The JPA was formed in 1995 as a bargaining entity for the San Benito County Integrated Waste Management Regional Agency (made up of three jurisdictions: Hollister, San Juan Bautista and San Benito County) to coordinate all waste management programs. Hollister has the option to continue participating in the JPA, to put together the RFP, or go solo in negotiating with Recology in order to extend the agreement. If the council were to choose the second option, city staff recommended that an ad hoc committee be included to determine the scope of work for future needs.
As several Recology employees, who were still wearing their florescent yellow jackets, sat in the audience, City Manager Bill Avera said the council wanted to release an RFP for the three jurisdictions and that it was recommended that the subcommittee (Councilmen Karson Klauer and Friend) should help draft it.
“The alternative would be to spend the next 45 to 60 days with the same ad hoc committee working directly with Recology to do a contract extension to be done on a negotiated basis rather than on a proposal basis,” Avera said.
Friend commented that he thought the ad hoc committee had sufficient time to resolve the situation. Avera said it would take that long to develop the RFP, after which it would be dispersed for approximately three months to garner bids from waste haulers. The city manager said it would most likely take an additional three months to review the bids and select a company.
“Whatever organization the JPA ends up with, they have until June 2018 to prepare for the transition,” Avera added.
Councilman Roy Sims, who was elected to the council seat in November, asked if there is a JPA. Avera told him there was and that it included Hollister, San Juan Bautista and the county. Sims asked Avera the cost of the RFP process. Avera said he didn’t know off-hand and told Sims that San Benito County Integrated Waste Management Regional Agency staff used to handle RFPs, but after recent layoffs that function has been contracted out and is funded by both cities.
When Adrian Garcia, a Recology employee, stepped up to the podium, he presented his argument sincerely as he told the council that he has worked for Recology for 15 years.
“I wake up at 3:45 every morning, every day, just like today,” he said after spending several hours in the audience waiting for the agenda item to come up. “The company that I work for is the best, not just for me, but for my family, too. We live here; we buy here; my kids go to school here; we vote here. I wish for you guys to pick my company because it’s the best one.”
Garcia said he had heard that the city might switch to another company, but that there had been no mention of the people involved.
“I would suggest for you to please, if you receive new contracts, that you add us in the contract, so we don’t have to go to the unemployment office after 2018,” he said.
Phil Couchee, Recology general manager, said the company’s management would like to sit down with the city to negotiate a deal. He said there was plenty of time to do so before considering an RFP.
“We provide good, reliable service,” he said. “You don’t hear complaints about Recology service. If we hear of a concern from a customer, we take care of it right away.”
Couchee told the council that many Recology employees live in Hollister. He said Recology is employee-owned and that the advantage of negotiating directly with the company is that there won’t be any surprises as the two sides discuss contract and language changes.
“There will be no disruption of services to your residents or businesses,” he said. “Changing a hauler is a big deal. You have an exchange of carts, of bins, possibly service day changes, and possibly different drivers. We would like the opportunity to sit down with your ad hoc committee and your staff to discuss what changes you would like and provide you with something that I think would be completely acceptable to you."
Kathleen Gallagher, of the county Integrated Waste Management Department, addressed Klauer’s concerns that some people or entities receive subsidized rates. She said there are no subsidized rates, but there are three separate rates for the county and the two cities. She also endorsed Recology and commented that there is a worker retention policy that could include the current drivers in the RFP.
“There’s a lot of value to that because they know the routes, they have family here,” she said, telling other council members that answers to their questions posed to her earlier concerning benefits, numbers of accounts and rates were included in the information packets they had before them. She encouraged the council to keep the three agencies together because of shared benefits.
Sims said his initial instinct was to seek out other options that might be discovered through the RFP process.
“The more I thought about it, I realized we’ve got a good company here that obviously treats their employees very well,” he said. “They’ve been doing a good job throughout the community. We don’t have a lot of issues and we’ve got a lot of other problems that we need to solve. If it’s not broken, why are we fixing it?”
Sims said that he felt that a company that has done such a good job should be given the opportunity to negotiate prior to a decision to stick with the JPA.
Klauer questioned how the city would handle the contract if it does not remain in the JPA. He said he doubted if someone on staff could do the job and wondered if an outside consultant would have to be hired. Gallagher told him the JPA's cost-sharing agreement was based on three members’ participating and if the city wanted to deal with Recology on its own it would have to negotiate on its own. She pointed out that the integrated waste management director, Mandy Rose, had retired and Brent Barnes, Resource Management Agency director, asked her and a colleague to manage the department. She said the contract covered both the franchise agreement and landfill agreement. When Klauer pushed for dollar figures, Gallagher answered that she did not have them available. He persisted, asking if she had a ballpark figure, within $50,000. She said she believed it was $44,000 for the franchise agreement that covered all three jurisdictions. Klauer surmised that if the city were to go it alone, it would have to pay at least $44,000 a year.
Gallagher told him that if the jurisdiction remained intact it would have the advisory committee that would be knowledgeable about new state legislative requirements and would develop the new franchise agreement to include new contract terms and performance standards of services. After that, the committee would bring back its work to the three jurisdictions to consider, before perhaps moving to a RFP. Klauer kept at her to reveal dollar amounts, whether the city remained with the JPA or went on its own. She said she would have to get back to him with those figures.
When Sims asked Gallagher that if the city negotiated directly with Recology would that mean it could not do so as part of the JPA. She told him that San Juan Bautista and San Benito County had already decided to negotiate within the JPA, use the advisory committee and move forward with the RFP. Hollister would be on its own. He continued to quiz her about the differences between the city remaining in the JPA or being independent of it. She told him the process is complex, included the involvement of the Intergovernmental Committee, and outlined numerous benefits of remaining linked to the other two jurisdictions.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez asked Gallagher if she had a dollar amount for all the services. Again, she did not have the amount at hand and said she would find out. Avera offered that Hollister pays 63 percent of the agency’s funding and the 2017 budget was $161,920.
Then Klauer asked Avera, “If we decide to do an exclusive negotiation first, who’s negotiating for us? Is it us? Is it you? Do we get somebody else who knows how to do it?”
Avera recommended that the sub-committee that the council established, along with himself and the city attorney, could negotiate. He said they do need someone who is familiar with the new state regulations.
Councilwoman Mickie Luna asked Gallagher who sits on the advisory committee. She told Luna that the committee has been dormant at the moment, but it is made up of County Supervisor Anthony Botelho, San Juan Bautista Councilman Tony Boch, and Klauer, who quipped, “We haven’t had a lot of meetings.” Luna then questioned why the committee included a supervisor and a council member who both represent San Juan Bautista, along with Klauer, who represents Hollister, to which Klauer joked, “We got jipped.”
Luna wondered why the three jurisdictions had not come together at the same time to agree on remaining in the JPA, rather than doing so on three different dates.
“You would have thought that advisory committee would have been formed because Mandy (Rose) left a long time ago,” she said.
Gallagher told her when she approached those involved it was a matter of scheduling and none of the three could come up with a common date that they were available.
Sims wanted to clarify that the city was conducting a study session whereas San Juan Bautista and the county met to pass resolutions. She told him that each of the three had received basically the same materials, including resolutions, from staffs, but on different dates. Sims said he did not want to go it alone, but felt the city was being “pushed against a wall,” and has to “scramble to make decisions and possibly incur additional costs.” He wondered if it were possible to reach out to the JPA to amend the other two jurisdictions’ resolutions, and then negotiate with Recology together.
“The JPA is important and I think we took options off the table too quickly,” he said.
Friend said it was important to consider all options, including remaining in the JPA or for the city to go on its own. He said it would be wise for the ad hoc committee to sit down with Recology to see what kind of deal could be made.
“If we just look at the numbers, I can’t believe anybody can make money running around the county trying to pick up waste when you consider just the travel distance,” he said. “Recology in the city has got to be a lot more efficient, and I can’t believe through an RFP somebody is going to make money and be as efficient as they (Recology) are because they’ll have to come in with new bins, new trucks, new employees. It would be silly for us not to talk to everybody again.”
Gallagher said that the current franchise agreement is dated and that there is new state legislative requirements and performance standards that need to be added to the agreement in order to meet industry standards. Velazquez said the primary issue was that the city is getting the best price and service.
“It’s not about switching companies, it’s about finding out what the industry price is, and the new requirements from the state,” he said. “We can still work that out. Is the JPA the perfect answer? I don’t know that. I do know we have to bring all of this up to date. I think the obvious way to go is move forward with the JPA so we can move forward with the RFP, rather than on our own.”
Gallagher said that because of the many alternatives, it might be appropriate to speak to the city managers and the advisory committee to possibly define a more refined scope of services between the three jurisdictions, whichever way negotiation scenarios might play out. Sims thought that if Hollister were to stay in the JPA that there needed to be bylaws that prevent one or more of the jurisdictions from taking actions without consulting the others.
With that, Velazquez asked for a motion to approve the resolution. When it came down to the vote, only the mayor and Klauer were in favor of it, so it did not carry.
Then it was time to step back and reconsider the next course of action.
Velazquez asked Brad Sullivan, city attorney, what they should do. He advised making an alternate motion. Then the mayor went to what has seemingly become a standard council option, hand it off to the ad hoc committee to run interference.
“We have this committee, so why not you guys come back and report to council on what you feel is the best way to move forward,” he said.
“Which trash committee?” Klauer asked.
In a jumble over overlapping comments, it was not clear to anyone who was involved. Then Gallagher asked if it was the JPA advisory committee. Velazquez said it was the council’s ad hoc committee. Klauer wanted confirmation of who was on the advisory committee. Avera wasn’t sure what the committee was called. The mayor said it was the solid waste committee, which included Klauer and former Councilman Victor Gomez. Sims thought it should be the JPA committee.
“So you’re saying call a meeting of the entire advisory committee?” Velazquez said to Sims, who responded, “I think so. Start from where it should have started.”
“Who’s in charge of that?” Klauer asked.
“You’re on that committee,” the mayor said to him and then said the makeup of the committee may have changed.
Gallagher tried to wrap it up. “I just wanted to be clear. The JPA advisory committee is Karson Klauer, Anthony Botelho and (former San Juan Bautista City Councilman) Tony Boch?”
That’s when someone recalled about Boch, “I don’t think he’s still in office.”
“That’s why I want to make sure who’s involved,” Klauer said.
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