South county residents unite against ‘trashy government’

Trash plan stomps on consent of the people, Rep. Lembke says

By BURKE WASSON

More than 360 people united last week to protest what they deem as “trashy government” in St. Louis County.

Citizens Against Trashy Government, a bipartisan group co-chaired by Mehlville Board of Education President Tom Diehl and former 96th District Republican House candidate Mike Becker, assembled Dec. 11 at the Holiday Inn at Interstate 55 and South Lindbergh Boulevard.

The group has formed primarily to challenge two county government decisions — trash districts planned to be implemented in September 2008 in unincorporated areas and a trash-transfer station to be constructed in Oakville.

Faced with the goals of preventing these two plans, an attorney organizing the group’s legal efforts does not guarantee success but promises a good “fight” to protect the will of south county residents, who have been overwhelmingly opposed to both trash districts and the trash-transfer station.

“There’s no guarantee of victory,” attorney Jerry Wamser told the crowd. “I don’t con anybody about this. But as free citizens, we have no choice but to fight. We will fight them in the courts. We will fight them in the legislature. We will fight them before the state DNR (Department of Natural Resources). And we will fight them at the ballot box.

“It’s about time that this county government gets a stark reminder that the government belongs to the people, not to the characters behind the curtain.”

While many speakers at the Citizens Against Trashy Government rally criticized County Executive Charlie Dooley for an “executive order” to establish the trash districts by September, county spokesman Mac Scott said no such order has been issued.

“There is no executive order,” Scott said. “All that’s going on is there is an ordinance in place that the council passed unanimously. And we are moving ahead with implementing the particulars of that ordinance.”

Scott was referring to a bill approved unanimously in December 2006 by the County Council in which amendments to the county’s solid-waste management code were included. One of those amendments was the establishment of trash districts in unincorporated areas.

As planned, the county will divide unincorporated areas into eight trash districts in which the County Council will award a bid to one waste hauler in each district.

Because of a perceived monopoly of one business per district as well as a county task force’s own admission this year that trash districting will put some small waste haulers out of business, many unincorporated residents — specifically those in south county — have opposed the move for most of the year. South county is slated to have four of the eight trash districts.

The County Council rejected three bills on Dec. 4 that would have amended those trash-district plans.

Its rejection of Bill 370 eliminated the county’s ability to add two option years onto waste haulers’ three-year contracts to service trash districts, stripped some provisions that would have helped prosecute waste haulers for poaching in trash districts not assigned to them and moved the county’s implementation of new minimum standards to Jan. 1 instead of April.

Those three countywide minimum standards are once-per-week pickup of trash, once-per-week of recyclables and twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste.

The County Council also rejected a bill that would have delayed the consideration of trash districts until 2010 and a bill that would have limited trash haulers to servicing no more than two trash districts.

While many residents in unincorporated areas now are planned to be part of trash districts, subdivisions in those areas have the choice to decline that inclusion.

Any subdivision that wishes to opt out of trash districts and employ the services of a waste hauler of their choosing has until Feb. 1 to petition the county.

To opt out of a trash district, subdivisions are required to have an active form of governance, follow the provisions of that governance in their petition, gather a simple majority of homeowners opposed to the districts and provide for the new minimum levels of trash service.

The county will field bids from February to May from waste haulers interested in providing service to the eight trash districts. County officials still expect that the County Council will begin to award trash-district bids to waste haulers in May and June with each trash district implemented by September.

For some residents in the trash districts, monthly trash-collection rates will rise.

County Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls has estimated that the average monthly fee for residents serviced through trash districts will range from $11 to $18.

Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, told those at last week’s rally that because of these increased prices and also because many south county residents don’t want the trash districts, they should not be established.

“This clumsy, monopoly trash-district plan is not the will of the people,” Lembke said. “It hasn’t arose from the people saying: ‘This is what we want.’ It is a political power play to create monopoly franchises for favorite insiders. Somebody said to me as I walked in this evening: ‘Jim, just follow the money on this thing.’ This plan stomps on the consent of the people and forces ordinary citizens to give up price, service, competition in favor of a countywide, government-imposed monopoly. It was flawed from the get-go.”

Attorney Lester Stuckmeyer also told residents that he and a team of attorneys will take steps in an effort to stop the construction of Fred Weber Inc.’s trash-transfer station on New Baumgartner Road in Oakville. Stuckmeyer already has filed a motion to appeal a Nov. 15 Circuit Court decision to deny Stuckmeyer’s attempt to intervene in the case.

After years of legal battles, County Counselor Pat Redington agreed in October to a settlement with Fred Weber Inc. to construct the trash-transfer station.

Redington has said that because Weber now has adhered to concerns from the county departments of health, planning and highways on the proposed station, she sees no need to continue legal opposition to it.

But Stuckmeyer believes that Weber’s changes to the station should be decided by the County Council and not settled in court.

“Here’s the part that really stinks,” Stuckmeyer said. “The county attorney, after the judge issued her decision, signed a secret agreement not to appeal the court’s decision in exchange for Fred Weber to dismiss their counterclaims. This agreement was signed without any notice to the County Council — her own clients — and without any notice to the people …

“There it is — secret government, folks. This deal was signed and it was just put away. So in a hearing that I brought to try to intervene on behalf of two businesses, I asked the county counselor: ‘How can you do this?’ And her response? ‘I am the county attorney and I alone have the final say in all legal matters before this court. It has been this way since I have been here and will continue to be that way.’

“And I thought to myself: ‘What arrogance. And who elected you?'”

With regard to both the trash districts and trash-transfer station, Wamser believes it is clear that county government is neglecting the will of south county residents.

“It’s an old recipe for bad government,” Wamser said. “Give the peasants a dog-and-pony show, amuse them, let them vent themselves, then do what you darn well please. Ignore them. They made one key mistake. This is 21st century America, not 1930s Germany. We are not peasants. We are free citizens. Let’s look at that trash-dump program. There’s no crisis. There’s no overwhelming demand for it. To the contrary, the demand is overwhelmingly negative … I think what we’re seeing is government action being pushed. It’s being pushed by powerful interests that stand to gain a whole lot by messing over us.

“… We hope to start to get to the bottom of what’s really going on here. Why do you stomp on the will of the people … and go ahead anyway? Because at stake is nothing less than whether the government of St. Louis County is going to slide into another version of a big-city machine that doesn’t listen to the people and only works with the shadowy folks behind the curtain.”