The Reno City Council last week approved a $15,000 survey to review customer satisfaction of waste hauler Waste Management and the city’s agreement with the company.
The city may also revisit enforcement against businesses not using Waste Management for recycling collection, a point of contention for business owners that use Green Solutions to pick up recyclables.
The moves come after increasing outcry against Waste Management’s increasing waste hauling exclusivity in Reno.
The city has threatened businesses with fines and jail time for not using Waste Management. It previously defended the actions as being in compliance with the franchise agreement with the hauler, but the mayor and council members hinted that they want that to change.
“I think it’s important to find out how the public feels about choice,” said Mayor Hillary Schieve. “There was confusion on what that (franchise agreement) really meant.”
Her statement was followed by a talk by former Councilmember Dave Aiazzi, who said that the franchise agreement specifically allowed for other haulers to stay in business. Aiazzi was involved with negotiations of the agreement, which was enacted in 2013.
“One of the major advantages to this contract was that it put more revenue in the city’s coffers,” he said. “I believe it was a million dollars a year more. We took a long time working on this project.
“We went a long ways — had many, many meetings — to make sure that the people who were hauling away recyclables could stay in business the entire time,” he added. “Waste Management agreed to that; the recyclers agreed to that. No one else could get into the business, but no one else could be forced out. This was not designed to take any business out of business, by any means.”
Intent of the Franchise Agreement
At the time, Castaway was one of those haulers. But the company was purchased by Waste Management soon after the agreement was signed, a purchase that became the subject of a lawsuit against Waste Management.
The city has been aggressively enforcing a narrower interpretation of the agreement in the recent past. These moves included issuing citations against businesses who are using Green Solutions and threatening business owners with jail time and fines.
An outside legal interpretation supported this enforcement. Assistant City Attorney Jonathan Shipman told ThisisReno in 2016 that Rubbish Runners, Nevada Recycling and Salvage (NRS), and Green Solutions may have to change their business model to comply with city rules.
“They’re going to have to true up their business model to make it conform with the franchise,” Shipman said of the three companies. “It really comes down to how do they handle recyclables versus how do they handle solid waste that gets disposed of. It wasn’t clear in the market where that line was until now that we have this administrative interpretation. We expect people to come into compliance pretty quickly, quite frankly.”
Schieve criticized how that determination was made. She said the outside review was poorly worded and not in line with what council was asking from the external legal interpretation of the franchise agreement.
Mike Draper, representing Nevada Recycling and Salvage, also criticized this interpretation.
“This franchise agreement…was negotiated with many parties at the table, including my client, several small haulers, the city, and Waste Management,” he said. “We left that negotiation with the understanding that we would have the ability to operate in the same capacity that we’d been operating.
“The mandate was that we had choice. You have the right to enact that,” he added. “It’s only the interpretation of this city that is limiting choice – not the agreement. The city is interpreting it in a different way than what was agreed to in 2012.
“All we’re asking is for the city to live up to that side of the good-faith negotiation.”
Waste Management did not attend the meeting. Spokesperson Kendra Kostelecky said that the company did not have a response to the discussion.
“As was mentioned in the (city) staff report, we meet with them regularly, address any service concerns, provide them with quarterly reports give them tours of our facilities,” she said. “We’ve been as transparent as we can be, and we welcome the survey.”
Portions of the agreement remain under litigation. On Tuesday, the Nevada Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case that alleged anti-trust violations by Waste Management. The case was dismissed in 2016 but appealed to the higher court.
In addition, NRS was recently ordered to pay Waste Management $232,000 in a breach of contract case involving unpaid disposal fees at the Lockwood Landfill.
“They have a big trash bill for a company that claims to only be handling recyclables and should — in their opinion — therefore be included in a loophole in the franchise agreement,” Kostelecky said.
NRS attorney Stephanie Rice said that a jury found both NRS and Waste Management were in breach of contract.
Critics Allege City Staff Have Pro-Waste Management Bias
City Sustainability Manager Lynn Barker last week criticized Green Solutions, Nevada Recycling and Salvage, and Rubbish Runners for what she alleged was not adhering to environmental regulations and building codes.
“For both Waste Management and the other parties, which are Nevada Recycling and Salvage, and Green Solutions, and Rubbish Runners, the three companies have a pretty significant history of not being in compliance with our environmental health and safety as well as our building and planning regulations,” she said.
Barker was instrumental in ordering a raid against Nevada Recycling and Salvage last year, which found a number of violations and also caused a rift between the city and county.
Barker told the council that the city gets very few complaints about Waste Management through its Reno Direct system, but numerous public and submitted comments to the city at last week’s hearing showed dissatisfaction with the franchise agreement.
“Our citizens … and our businesses are unhappy with our waste management process,” said Council member Noami Duerr in reference to numerous complaints she’s received. “I’m confident that many are happy. I am very supportive of what (city) staff has proposed – to do a scientific survey … so that we would better understand where people really are.”
Schieve said she was embarrassed by city actions.
“I was so embarrassed, I have to tell you, to see,” she said. “It felt like bullying from the city’s side.
“I was so embarrassed for this city because we are pro-business,” she repeated. “We’ve always wanted to be pro-business. I’m tired of going around and around and around.”
The council unanimously approved a $15,000 survey to determine how people feel about Waste Management. The city manager’s office will discuss recycling service and business competition at a later meeting.
“I’m going to continue to advocate for choice,” Schieve said.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.