Stenger settlement ends lawsuit on trash districts

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

We applaud County Executive Steve Stenger for settling a lawsuit filed by three trash haulers over the county’s establishment of trash districts.

Under the settlement, St. Louis County will pay Waste Management of Missouri, Meridian Waste Services and American Eagle Waste Industries a total of $5,822,765. The settlement comes just days after the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a 2013 ruling by St. Louis County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace that the county owed the trash companies $5.9 million. That judgment was accruing daily interest at an annual rate of 9 percent.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Stenger said, “The case was settled for less than the applicable judgment amount and insurance will cover all damages, less the deductible.”

As Stenger rightly noted in his statement, the lawsuit was “an artifact of the previous administration.”

That would be the arrogant and out-of-touch administration of former County Executive Charlie Dooley. If the Dooley administration — particularly County Counselor Pat Redington — simply had complied with a state statute requiring the county to issue a two-year notice to waste haulers before establishing trash districts in unincorporated areas, years and years of litigation could have been avoided.

During a May 2008 public hearing held nearly a month before the haulers filed suit against the county, several state legislators contended the notification requirement did apply to St. Louis County. At that hearing, Redington argued with those legislators — the very people who voted to enact the law — arrogantly countering that the notification requirement did not apply to St. Louis County because it is a charter county.

So instead of paying the cost of certified mail to send the required notice to trash haulers, the Dooley administration put the county in a position where it was on the hook for a $5.9 million judgment.

The arrogance of the Dooley administration was further compounded by Redington and former county Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls’ insistence that the county did not owe one red cent to the trash haulers. As a result, they continued to appeal losing judgment after losing judgment, until Dooley finally left office.

We believe many of the goals of the trash-collection program are desirable and even admirable. All the Dooley administration had to do was follow the law, but apparently that was too much to ask.