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Morning Sun
  • OUR VIEW: Mistakes, misconceptions mar Pittsburg trash issue

  • Gov. Sam Brownback declared this coming week, Nov. 18-25, as the Week of Reconciliation in Kansas. While no specifics were given as to what that means or how it should be celebrated, we think we could come up with a few ideas here, specifically related to the trash issue in Pittsburg.

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  • Gov. Sam Brownback declared this coming week, Nov. 18-25, as the Week of Reconciliation in Kansas. While no specifics were given as to what that means or how it should be celebrated, we think we could come up with a few ideas here, specifically related to the trash issue in Pittsburg.
    Let’s start with the root of this whole mess. Commissioners say they are tackling the issue of the city’s appearance. This is not a made-up cause.
    There have been countless meetings over the years in which business leaders discuss the difficulty of finding a route through the city that doesn’t lead one by discarded items or junk in yards. Most were also not at the memorable city commission meeting months ago in which commissioner Patrick O’Bryan came in with a full bag of trash he’d collected just walking down the street to the commission meeting. The problem of trash and junk is real and is a problem that needs to be addressed.
    That said, we would note that much of that is not a problem with the trash haulers. It’s not their job to go through city streets or go onto people’s property to make sure junk items are discarded or to keep the city’s streets clear. It is their job to pick up the items that are left in bins at the edge of private property.
    Pittsburg, as local hauler Chris Norris correctly said in Tuesday’s meeting, does not have a general trash problem of piles of trash in people’s yards. Rather, it’s an issue of residential junk, such as unused appliances or other discarded materials taking up space on private alleys, properties and residences. That’s the problem that, in all honesty, needs to be addressed.
    At Tuesday’s meeting, there were a lot of accusations and anger directed from members of the public and the local haulers to the city commission and the city manager. There were a lot of misconceptions about what was actually happening, however. Some of those misconceptions were missteps caused by the commission itself, and others were caused by those who spoke.
    Let’s start with the haulers and members of the public.
    First, the city has never stated any plan to divide the city into quadrants and put it out for bid. In a Morning Sun story back in September, one local hauler admitted that the city manager “didn’t come out and say” anything about the city being divided into quadrants and bid out. So that’s a rumor started from the assumptions of the haulers and not by anything stated in public.
    Second, the city has no plan at this point. The idea of the trash task force is to come up with a plan to solve the aforementioned problem, and to present that plan to the commission for a vote. One common theme heard at Tuesday’s meeting was “we don’t want this to happen,” but it was unclear what was meant by “this.” If the comments were about a citywide takeover of trash, that’d be a fine discussion to have if there were a plan, or even if that were the plan. However, no solution has been presented or even created. The city just wants to solve the junk problem. And even if the city were planning a takeover of trash, the legal process must take at least 18 months, with many open meetings. There is legally no way whatever “this” was could possibly have been done behind anyone’s backs.
    Page 2 of 3 - Third, at least three city commissioners, in their comments Tuesday night, said they’d vote against anything that would put trash hauling up for bid. So any fears that the local haulers would be forced out of business by larger haulers winning a bid process are, frankly, misplaced. Unless one of those three changes his mind (the views of the remaining two on putting trash hauling out for bid were not made public), there aren’t enough people to pass it, anyway.
    That said, we also feel like the city commissioners and the city manager have made their own fair share of missteps.
    First, a representative from each of the haulers should have always been on the planned task force. Originally, the task force was to include one person to represent all four of the local trash haulers. One person on a 14-person task force. One person is woefully insufficient on an issue that directly affects careers and livelihoods. While yes, the local haulers had chosen that representative at a meeting months ago, they shouldn’t have had to choose one representative. Only after this issue was brought to the commissioners’ attention at Tuesday’s meeting was each hauler allowed to have its own representative.
    Second, the resolution of intent passed by a 3-2 vote included a list of “goals” that, while not being specific, certainly outline what the final plan should or could look like. One goal is a citywide billing system. Another goal talks of a subsequent trash fee. Another talks of reducing wear and tear on streets caused by multiple trash trucks.
    Commissioner Rudy Draper, who voted against the resolution, said that although some of these goals were correct, he felt uncomfortable passing it because there is no guarantee that a bidding system wouldn’t emerge from these guidelines. We agree with his assessment.
    The resolution of intent, in itself, is effectively the start of a timer to create any sort of plan and also to give the commission the authority to approve whatever the trash task force may decide. But with these written goals, the range of possible recommendations by the task force is severely limited. The goals themselves create too small of a box as a starting point. Commissioners did agree that the task force should look first at these goals, but if that’s the case, then the goals shouldn’t have been made in the first place.
    Third, the resolution of intent was premature. As we said, the resolution of intent is not a vote for any particular system or approving a city takeover of trash. But it does start the timer on getting a plan in place. Many, including former mayor Ralph McGeorge, told the commission there is no reason to rush the process unnecessarily. While the resolution of intent would be necessary for any changes proposed by the task force, there was no reason the resolution of intent had to be passed before the task force began meeting. The task force could have been started at any time.
    Page 3 of 3 - Finally, we believe there are solutions, but it will require reconciliation. If the problem is with residential junk and not a citywide trash issue, then one solution would be stricter codes enforcement.
    Another would be to bring back the citywide clean-up, which was eliminated partly for budgetary reasons and partly because of complaints it was “abused” in March 2011. At the time, $25,000 seemed important to cut from the city’s budget. If the issue is with people needing a place to discard of residential junk, it may be time for the commission to admit it was wrong and restore it.
    If that is the only thing that emerges from the task force, then all the protests and public complaints have been fighting an issue that never was. The resolution of intent would also likely be necessary even in that case.
    This will be the Week of Reconciliation, but it’s a short week because of the holiday. Perhaps the real reconciliation should start next week, when the trash task force is scheduled to meet for the first time.
    The problem is real, the table is wide and solutions exist. Let the reconciliation begin.
    For the Morning Sun
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