County changes language on failure-to-appear notices

By EVAN YOUNG

St. Louis County won’t suspend its residents’ driver’s licenses if they fail to appear in municipal court for refusing to participate in the county’s trash-collection program, the county counselor said last week.

After receiving complaints about failure-to-appear notices that state residents who don’t show up to municipal court could face arrest “and/or suspension of your driving privileges,” County Counselor Patricia Redington said Friday the forms had been changed — the “driving privileges” language, removed.

The complaints came primarily from residents living within the county’s trash districts in unincorporated areas. They were summoned to court for allegedly failing to enter into a service agreement with their district’s county-authorized waste hauler.

State law says courts can take away residents’ driving privileges only if they’ve committed traffic violations. Redington said the county municipal courts use the same form for all offenses.

“That was a clerical error,” she told the Call. “I think those forms were just a carryover from when we pretty much used to do all traffic, and that’s an option for moving violations.”

Despite having the authorization to do so, Redington added the county courts don’t typically seize drivers licenses for traffic offenses, either.

“Sometimes you use a form and keep using it, and you need to look at them every once in a while,” she said.

The glitch, however, didn’t impress Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, who said in a statement last week that the issue is “another example of government not living within its boundaries.”

“Taxpayers are being intimidated and threatened with a penalty the county has no ability to enforce,” Lembke stated. “The courts and bureaucrats must be held accountable.”

Several trash district residents and waste haulers, in fact, are trying to do just that with county government.

Three lawsuits related to the trash-district program have been filed against the county since last year. The latest, a class-action suit filed Sept. 14 by residents Paul Marquis and Cathy Armbruster, demands ordinances establishing the districts be declared illegal and residents be refunded all of the fees they’ve paid the county’s contracted haulers for trash removal during the program.

The county awarded those contracts to Allied Waste, IESI and Veolia Environ-mental Services in 2008. The haulers serve the districts exclusively, one per district.

They also are named as defendants in the class-action suit.

Redington said Friday that the county planned to file a motion to dismiss the suit, which will be heard in county Circuit Court.

Also pending at the Circuit Court level is a suit filed in August 2008 by residents Brett Buchanan and Greg Porter, along with hauler American Eagle Waste Industries.

The plaintiffs in that case say the county shouldn’t have established trash districts without first putting the issue to a public vote, citing a section of the County Charter.

Subdivisions can opt-out of the waste management program and choose their own hauler — more than 300 have done so — but other residents are required to use the county-authorized service or face fines and/or legal action.

The case hasn’t progressed since the county motioned in October 2008 to have it dismissed.

American Eagle Waste, along with fellow haulers Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri, also filed suit against the county in May 2008. They allege it violated a 2007 state statute by failing to give two years’ notice to waste haulers currently serving residents before establishing the trash districts.

The three haulers came up short in their bids for the trash district contracts with the county that eventually went to Allied, IESI and Veolia.

Circuit Judge Steven Goldman dismissed their lawsuit in June 2008, ruling that because St. Louis County is a charter county, it was exempt from providing the two-year notice required by state statute 260.247. The haulers appealed the decision, first to the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals and then to the state Supreme Court; both courts refused to review the ruling.

However, the case returned in July 2008 to the Court of Appeals, which reversed and remanded the initial, June 2008 Circuit Court decision to dismiss the case.

In its opinion, the appellate court wrote that statute 260.247 was a “general statute of statewide public policy” and that St. Louis County couldn’t override it.

The county unsuccessfully appealed this decision to the state Supreme Court, and the case went back to the Circuit Court in February. On May 27, the county moved the case to the U.S. District Court in St. Louis and since has filed a motion to dismiss. The haulers are asking for $25,000 in damages.