County Counselor Patricia Redington last week disputed claims that the county may face a multimillion dollar judgment in a lawsuit against its trash district program by three waste haulers because no one has said as much in court.
In an exchange at last week’s County Council meeting with 7th District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, Redington contended she repeatedly has asked the haulers how much in damages they believe they are owed, to no avail.
County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace ruled Sept. 23 that the county breached an implied contract with the haulers when it failed to provide two years’ notice, required by a 2007 state law, before establishing eight trash districts in unincorporated areas.
The county plans to appeal Wallace’s decision once damages owed the haulers are determined. A hearing tentatively is scheduled for mid-November.
American Eagle Waste Industries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri sued the county in May 2008.
They did not win contracts that year to serve the trash districts exclusively and are prohibited from offering service to district residents.
The contracts were awarded through competitive bidding to Allied Services, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services.
While a county circuit judge dismissed the haulers’ case in June 2008, the Missouri Court of Appeals later reversed the decision, ruling the county was not exempt from the 2007 two-year notice provision.
That law was enacted several months after the council in December 2006 unanimously approved an ordinance calling for the future establishment of trash districts.
County officials have said they established the trash district program as a way to standardize service, encourage recycling, save unincorporated residents money through competitive bidding and reduce the frequency of trash trucks on the streets.
But unincorporated residents in south county — where four of the eight districts are situated — have argued that the program took away their right to choose their hauler or whether to have trash service at all.
And the waste haulers who were not awarded trash district contracts contend they’ve lost a significant amount of business as a result of the program.
American Eagle Waste co-owner Bryan Barcom has said his company alone has lost more than 13,000 customers.
“All seven of you are responsible for this whole St. Louis County, not just your district,” Barcom told the council during a period for public comments at last week’s meeting. “So in virtue you put every single taxpayer … at risk for a lawsuit that’s going to cost tens of millions of dollars no matter which way you put it.”
Barcom criticized County Executive Charlie Dooley, a Democrat, for remarks the county executive made at an Oct. 14 candidate forum with his opponent in the Nov. 2 election, Republican Bill Corrigan. When the candidates were asked about their position on a proposed casino in north county, Dooley responded that he was opposed to the project because north county residents overwhelmingly were against it.
“I guess my biggest question to (Dooley) is: Does he listen to north county residents about a casino … but doesn’t listen to south county residents when they tell him they don’t want a trash program implemented by St. Louis County?” Barcom said.
He added, “If Mr. Dooley pulls this election out and when you’re found guilty and (the taxpayers) have to pay tens of millions of dollars … are you willing to resign?”
Following Barcom’s comments, Quinn remarked, “In order to save $4 million, rushing forward and violating state law may cost the county maybe $50 million …
Redington interjected, “I’d like to know where these numbers are coming from because under oath no one will answer a single question …. (W)hen I hear these huge numbers thrown around I’m very curious because years ago I asked the attorney to give me even a demand for what they wanted and never got one. We sent out discovery asking what the damages were, what the monthly charges are. No one’s answered.
“So all this talk about millions of dollars, no one’s so sure that they’re willing to sign their name to it under oath. So I think before you throw these numbers around, a responsible person would have some idea of the truthfulness of the statement,” Redington said.
“Maybe we should’ve calculated that before we rammed through this program,” Quinn said.
“There was no law requiring notice when we rammed through this program,” Redington said.
“I mean there was the state law the judge said we should have obeyed,” Quinn said.
“Well I wish they would’ve set out the law before we passed the program, and I still haven’t heard anything that shows any measure of damages,” Redington said.
Fifth District Council Chair Barbara Fraser, D-University City, said, “In any case I think the entire trash proposal was voted on prior to — I think it was December of 2006 and I believe it was a 7-0 vote. Am I correct?”
“That’s entirely untrue,” Quinn said. “The trash program was not voted on. The enabling legislation to allow it if subsequent bills were passed was enacted.”
“Not to allow it,” Redington replied hotly. “It directed the administration to set these districts up by January 2008, which is what the administration did.”
Quinn noted the council in December 2007 voted 4-3 against a proposal introduced by 3rd District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, that would have delayed consideration of trash districts until 2010.
The bill was supported by Wasinger, Quinn and then-6th District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county.
“There were three votes in favor of that bill to wait the two years. I was one of those three votes,” Quinn said last week. “The four people that voted for it condemned the county to a judgment that has now occurred, and the damages are going to be imposed … I don’t know exactly whether in our next budget we’ll be anticipating how we’re going to come up with the millions of dollars that we’re going to need …”
Redington interjected, “I’d like you to show me the evidence of millions of dollars in damages. Also the council should remember that whether there was two years’ notice or not, people actually got one and three-quarters years’ notice because we … passed this in December 2006 and you may remember that the actual trash collection began for all but one district in October of 2008, which by my count is one year and three-quarters.
“So if the three months delay or the three months extra difference comes out to $40 million or $50 million, I’d like to see how that can happen.”