The phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was on full display Tuesday night at the Pittsburg City Commission.
The issue of trash hauling, and the city’s plans and potential plans drew more than 200 people to the Beard-Shanks Law Enforcement Center, some standing in the hallway outside the commission room, others taken to a nearby briefing room to watch the meeting on a monitor.
After completing other business, city commissioners opened a public hearing before considering a resolution of intent. The resolution of intent was later approved 3-2.
In effect, the resolution of intent begins a ticking clock for a plan to be presented to commissioners to address citywide trash pickup. Within 90 days, the commission must hear a plan on citywide trash.
To determine this plan, the commission has appointed a committee (which will be referred to in this story as the trash task force). Before Tuesday’s meeting, that was a committee of 14, including a sole representative of the local trash haulers. During Tuesday’s meeting, other local trash haulers asked to join and were also placed on the trash task force.
The committee will consider ways to improve the city’s trash collection system based upon several goals included in the resolution of intent (See page A3). During Tuesday’s meeting, those goals became a point of contention, and some direction was given to the trash task force to start its work by refining those goals.
City Manager Daron Hall opened the public hearing by explaining what was at stake. He said the issue of trash in the city was one of housing, community appearance, public health and public safety.
“One part of that is a consistent, solid waste program,” Hall said.
Hall then read off the list of goals as presented in the resolution of intent, and also identified the then-14 people on the trash task force, which would have its first scheduled meeting on Nov. 28 (details TBD).
“It’s a public process. This is one of the biggest committees I’ve ever seen,” Hall said.
City Attorney Henry Menghini then explained to the commissioners and those in attendance the legal process involved. Namely, the city must pass a resolution of intent in order to accept changes, if any, that are made by the task force. The resolution of intent merely kicks off the 90-day period in which the city can hear and vote on a plan, and all haulers must be given 30 days notice before any plan comes before the city commission for a vote. At max, the city has 180 days before it must adopt an ordinance, or else the whole process must start again.
Furthermore, Menghini noted that any ordinance cannot go into effect on a citywide trash service for at least 18 months, by state statute.
Page 2 of 5 - Hall then took the microphone again.
“There has been a lot of confusion about our intent. It not about the city commission, or about the city manager, it’s about the community. Our goal is to improve the community,” Hall said. “We never said we were unhappy with the services of the haulers. You will not find anyone that supports local business more than myself. I appreciate the comments that we’ve received.”
Hall also said that he didn’t believe the problem of trash in the city was an issue theat “we are coming up with ourselves.” He told the crowd that the process, if approved by commissioners, would be open and transparent, and nothing would be done behind people’s backs.
Lastly, before opening up for public comment, Mayor John Ketterman again restated the commission’s position — it doesn’t have a plan right now, but it wants to see ways to improve the trash issue in the city.
“What those plans will be, we have no idea,” Ketterman said. “I don’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I would not be willing to vote for anything that would affect local haulers.”
Carol Maransani, co-owner of Short’s Trash Service, spoke first and was among the most vocal critics of any plan having to do with the trash haulers. She, like many others, stated her history with the city before going on about other subjects. Maransani said that she believed if the city were bid out, that her company could not compete with larger, out-of-town trash haulers. She said she was certain they would be undercut during a bid process.
She then spoke about citywide cleanup, a program cut a few years back during budget discussions by the city.
“I don’t believe we have a household trash problem,” Maransani said. “The problem was doing away with the citywide cleanup. It was said the city could not afford it, and it was abused. Even smaller towns like Arma, Kansas, does it once a year, and they also pick up at the curbs.”
Another member of the public suggested that before trash service is placed on people’s water bills, that people should be given the option to show proof of service with a local hauler.
Further, they denounced what they called plans to divide the city into quadrants, as well as attacking the issue of trucks tearing up city streets. They said that the large company’s trash trucks are heavier unloaded than local haulers’ trucks fully loaded, and that the issue of street destruction is not caused by local haulers’ trucks.
“You’re not going to get service from big companies like you do from little companies,” they added. “No one is for this, and I don’t know why you want to do this.”
Page 3 of 5 - One man said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That line came to be used multiple times throughout the night as an indictment of the city’s efforts. That man was also the first among several public commenters who called for a public referendum on the issue, “so the people also can decide about it.”
Marian, from Lloyd’s Trash Service, spoke in lieu of Merle Lloyd, who had a prior commitment Tuesday night. She said her company had another 717 signatures to add to the Short’s and the Norris’ petitions. In total, petition signatures tallied close to 1,500 among those who stated a number.
She also asked for documentation of a city claim that 30 percent of Pittsburg residents do not have trash service. She wondered if those numbers include college students, rental property, homes that are for rent or for sale, and more information.
“A lot in the city would be more than willing to pay $.50 or $1 to have citywide cleanup again. I don’t think the trash problem is what you say it is. I don’t see people take their trash and throw it in the sewer. I have not seen that,” she said.
Several public commenters spoke about bad service they had received at large trash companies before switching to local trash haulers, and that any move by the city to take them away from their local haulers would be unwise.
Bob Torbett spoke about how he pays $17 per month for trash service, and would be willing to bet that a large company or a city trash service would be more expensive than that. Torbett then questioned the commissioners, noting that three were up for re-election in April, and that he saw no reason commissioners should vote on the issue when a majority may not be in those seats this time next year.
Others sarcastically referred to the city taking over downtown businesses or veterinarians or other businesses and calling it a “utility.”
Former mayor and city/county commissioner Ralph McGeorge spoke as well, saying that he didn’t believe some of the “goals” stated in the resolution of intent should be on the list.
“That’s a codes enforcement problem, not a trash problem,” McGeorge said. “When each of you ran for office, you said you’d create jobs, and get better jobs, and support the small businesses. You said you didn’t want to lose one job or one small business.”
He reiterated tht it’s not a problem caused by the trash haulers; it’s a problem caused by codes enforcement. Others, including Chris Norris of Norris Trash Service, had also suggested codes enforcement issue citations, or go in and clean up messy trash problems and then bill the homeowner for the work, much the same way weed nuisances are handled. McGeorge also suggested passing a resolution that all haulers in Pittsburg must use single-axle trucks, which “won’t tear up the alleys or the streets.”
Page 4 of 5 - One Langdon Lane resident questioned the “rush” behind the moves, and said he did not notice any trash in the city as he drove through the town.
“Where is all this trash? The mayor said they’re finding it in garages. How about in our basements? Our closets? Our cabinets and our drawers? Where does it stop? I don’t see all that trash. Is it out there?...I don’t look forward to my water bill being tied to a trash service I do not want.”
Blake Benson, Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce president and a chosen member of the trash task force, said he understands the need to address the city trash issue, but he also represents the small businesses, which includes the local trash haulers. He said the process would be open, be transparent, would be taped, and looped on the Pittsburg public access channel.
Following Benson, one man said that he didn’t see the point in spending 90 days to come up with a plan. Another woman said that if, as she had heard, the city were to be divided into quadrants, then to just split it up among the local haulers.
Later, Chris Kelly, Pittsburg State director of marketing and communications, spoke as a representative of the university, asking the commission to slow down, look at all aspects, and that the university supports local businesses. He also applauded the commission for looking at all options.
Another woman, Jeannie Gaddy, wondered who she would call if a trash company did not show up.
“The city has got enough to handle, I don’t think they can add any more,” she said.
Paula Elsacer reminded the commission that they work for the people, “so anyway, you need to listen to us.”
A final public commenter asked how the plan would affect the SEK Recycling Center
Mayor Ketterman spoke first after the public comments had ended.
“Remember, no decision has been made tonight. The letter of intent is to have a committee form and come back with a recommendation. They may come back and say no changes. We may hear their recommendation and say no, we don’t like that plan,” Ketterman said, adding that he would not vote for anything that would have an adverse effect on any local hauler.
Commissioner Rudy Draper, who is typically quiet during meetings, spoke up next.
“This is a big issue. The goals on this resolution, I’m in agreeance with several items, because they’re just no-brainers,” Draper said. “There are parts the city needs to clean up; I drive in the city and notice things, too. The majority, as [Chris] Norris said, is odds and other things, not ordinary trash. There are things I disagree with on this resolution, and I’m not sure I can support it. When it comes time to move forward with this process, I just don’t think I can guarantee people it won’t go out to bid. I understand we’re just getting started. My concern is it will go out to bid, and I have a problem with that.”
Page 5 of 5 - Draper further said there were too many questions.
Commissioner Patrick O’Bryan, who has come to meetings with bags of trash he has collected to illustrate the city’s trash issue, said the commission’s been talking about the project for a long time.
“If we approve the resolution, it doesn’t make anything happen except we’re going to be talking about it,” O’Bryan said. “This next step is just a step. It is a step... It’s the logical and legal step to take. We have a big comittee on it. I don’t know the other
commissioners, but I have a list of things brought to my attention that are going to be addressed in the coming meetings. I’m not trying to jam this down anyone’s throat. It’s just something that needs to be talked about.”
Commissioner Marty Beezley spoke, and recapped her sense of the events, including “conjecture about what we voted to achieve” that got a life of its own once it made its way to social media.
“If there’s one thing I can stress, please don’t be worried. We support local businesses,” Beezley said. “We strongly believe that.”
Commissioner Michael Gray spoke about raising the bar, and that if the bar isn’t raised, it stays the same.
“I talked to two local haulers. I don’t want to put local businesses out of work. It’s not a bad thing to raise the bar. It’s not a bad thing to want to improve. The city needs to improve, too,” Gray said. “After the task force meets, maybe there are some things we can tweak. I see this as a step in the process. If we support the resolution tonight, that’s doesn’t mean we’re bidding this out to haulers. There are no discussions on bidding this out.”
After some public outbursts, Ketterman agreed that he would not vote for anything that put the trash in the city up for bid, similar to statements made by Draper and Gray. Draper questioned whether the task force could meet first, and then the resolution of intent could be passed once some sort of plan has been put together
“I see no reason to rush this. If the task force comes back with their own resolution in two months, so be it,” Draper said.
Other commissioners said that the resolution of intent should come first, so that the process of “talking about it” could take place.
In the end, Beezley, Gray and O’Bryan voted to pass the resolution of intent, and Draper and Ketterman voted against it.