The controversy over the Glen Rose City Council’s decision on a new solid waste disposal contract has continued to pulsate and aggravate within the community even after the 3-1 vote on Oct. 16.
The Council decided, by a 3-1 vote with one member absent, to approve the five-year contract proposal submitted by Knox Waste Service.
Knox is scheduled to begin trash pickup services in Glen Rose on Jan. 1. The contract with the current provider, Waste Connections, expires Dec. 31.
In addition to Waste Connections and Knox, a third solid waste disposal company, Lone Star Disposal, also submitted a proposal.
During the public comment segment of that meeting, about a dozen people came to the podium, all expressing either disagreement with the choice, or asking the Council to reconsider the other proposals based on the cost increase and other factors.
Former Glen Rose City Council member Chris Bryant read from his notes and challenged City Manager Chester Nolen’s influence along with the process used to make the decision — then expressed surprise when the 90-second time allotted for each speaker expired.
A woman from the audience who agreed with Bryant stepped up to the podium, offering to read the rest of Bryant’s notes. She had signed in to speak, but it was not her turn, city officials said, and she was eventually asked to be seated.
Before it was over, Mayor Sue Oldenburg asked Glen Rose Police Chief Buck Martin to escort both the woman and Bryant — in separate incidents — out of Council Chambers.
On his way out, Bryant turned to the crowd and announced he will be running for a City Council seat in the next election. He also said that, if elected, he will try to see that Nolen is removed from his position.
Bryant became more animated as he was walking toward the exit and addressed Nolen, saying, “Mr. Nolen, you’re gone.”
THE OTHER VOTE
The three Council members who voted to award the contract to Knox were Doug Mitchell, Sandra Ramsey and Linda James. Dennis Moore was the lone “no” vote, but Robert Marquez told the Glen Rose Reporter on Tuesday night that he also would have voted no. Marquez was unable to attend the meeting because he was out of state for personal reasons.
“I would have voted no also,” Marquez stated, explaining that the original RFP requested prices for trash pickup only once a week. “I would have asked for more time (to make a decision). I feel the Council must have had something I didn’t have. If I had had a chance to speak (at the meeting), it might have gone another way. I think the price was too high.”
Marquez noted the fact that Lone Star’s proposal was for a cost of $12.50 per month for residential customers, but that was for once-a-week pickup because the original RFP (request for proposal) called for that.
“I didn’t like the process because (the requirement) changed from once a week to twice a week and they changed the RFP,” said Marquez, who expressed regret that he was unable to attend that night. “I would have hoped they had gone to the other two, to see their prices and what they would have offered.”
After hearing public demand to have trash continue to be picked up twice a week, the Council’s committee — Mitchell, James and Nolen — asked Knox to provide another proposal. The second proposal, which has a base rate increase of approximately 40 percent over the current residential cost charged by Waste Connections — was approved.
CLAIM: PROCESS ‘NOT ETHICAL’
Bryant claimed after the vote that, “They already had this decision made before tonight.”
Bryant was interviewed by the newspaper the following morning, and had some harsh allegations.
“I do have suspicions that this bid process was not ethical, and lacked in moral value,” Bryant stated.
Dunlap, who is Bryant’s brother-in-law, said he has been doing rural waste disposal business in Somervell County since 2003. He also had sharp criticism of the vote giving the contract to Knox, and noted that residents will no longer have bulk trash pickup service available.
“It was orchestrated 100 percent by the city administrator (Nolen),” Dunlap stated. “He pretty well coached them on what he thought was best for the city. And I’m sure he believed what he was saying. But the increase was ridiculous.”
The contract calls for a $17.95 basic monthly fee for residential customers, for a 95-gallon cart that will be picked up twice per week. An additional residential cart would be $8 more per month. Knox’s commercial fees will start at $12 per month for a 95-gallon container to be picked up once per week. Businesses with larger trash pickup needs can request 4-yard trash bins starting at $73.50 per month.
Marquez said he was disappointed when he read some of the negative comments about the City Council that were posted on social media such as Facebook. Both Nolen and Ramsay spoke during the meeting to address allegations of improper conduct, voiced by members of the public.
“The other proposals had difficulty making the deadline,” Ramsey stated during the meeting. “I really go feel like we’ve listened (to the public). We have not raised rates for trash in over five years. This was not a bid, this was a proposal.”
“I can tell you for certain that it was not a cut deal, it was not a done deal,” Nolen said later when interviewed by the Glen Rose Reporter. “I was still fielding questions from the Council members up until the time we actually went into the meeting.
“Once we started the negotiations with Knox, you don’t go back and forth (to the various) players. You never reach an agreement on it at that point. We were free to negotiate any and all aspects of the service.”
NOT A BIDDING PROCESS
Nolen, speaking later that week in his office, explained that under Texas municipal code guidelines, the process for selecting solid waste pickup services is exempt from normal bidding and procurement laws.
“Cities have been able to negotiate directly with solid waste companies for those services,” Nolen said. “We elected not to do a hard big. I suggested that we go with RFPs and that was council-approved. That was in April. The RFPs were received in June.
“We looked at all three proposals, and it was the unanimous thought of that committee that Knox had the best proposal for the city. We had issues with Progressive Waste — now Waste Connections — in their service delivery. The committee elected not to proceed with Waste (Connections) because of performance.”
Nolen said that those issues included Waste Connections having mechanical problems with trucks and pickup time delays for both commercial and residential customers.
Nolen said that Lone Star’s proposal consisted of one sheet only, listing rates for once-a-week pickup. Nolen also noted that a second interview with Lone Star to discuss twice-a-week was declined because no company representative was available at that time. Dunlap was out of state at that time and sent a representative to meet with the committee.
“He did not have an employee of the company, or himself,” Nolen said of that second meeting. “It was an individual that was not with the company that was a friend of Mr. Dunlap’s. He made a presentation on behalf of Lone Star and the committee felt that was not acceptable.”
The Council then voted, 4-1, to continue negotiations with Knox to work out all of the details. That’s when the committee asked Lone Star to submit its proposal for twice-a-week pickup.
“If we had gone with a hard bid — if all we were looking at is a base number — whoever got the lowest bid, that would have been who we would have gone with, and that was not what we were looking for. We were looking for performance.”
Nolen noted that although some may tend to not trust government entities to do the right thing, there were no other motivating factors in the decision process.
“The propensity these days is to believe that government is somehow crooked and corrupt and not doing the right thing,” Nolen said. “Everything we have done in this regard is open and above board. Nobody on the Council has any ties or connection to Knox Waste Services. I do not, the Council doesn’t. We have received no favors whatsoever from Knox Waste Services.”
LOCAL OR NOT LOCAL?
Some of the objections to having Knox as the provider included the issue of trash container sizes, as well as arguments that Knox is not locally based. Knox’s home office is in Tye, Texas, on the west side of Abilene. Dunlap said that Lone Star currently has 5,600 rural customers in Somervell County, as well as in Bosque, Hood, Erath and Johnson counties. Dunlap resides in Kopperl, and Lone Star’s parent company has its primary office in Houston.
“Some companies have 6- and 8-yard containers. Knox is one of the few that doesn’t,” Nolen said. “We, the committee, contacted several of Knox’s current customers, cities, and we received nothing but glowing reports of how well they took care of business in their various cities. We did not have one negative comment whatsoever about Knox Waste and so we continued to negotiate the agreement with Knox Wasted. Plain and simple.
“Knox will be locating a yard here, a storage yard for their equipment. They are providing various things that are not necessarily the same but are consistent with what the other companies would provide in terms of overall service. And the committee felt that was appropriate.”
Nolen said 31 cities are among the customers served by Knox. Lone Star currently serves only rural customers, but Dunlap said he had hoped to change that starting with Glen Rose.
“I had over $2 million committed to this,” Dunlap told the Glen Rose Reporter. “In order for me to do this right, I had to take on an investor. I’ve got backing now. I spent 14 years getting ready for this. This would have been our first city.”
The city of Glen Rose has posted on its website a guide for residents, answering many questions that may come up concerning the new trash pickup contract and services.