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New rules for waste haulers spark disagreement

Monday, June 18, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

After more than a decade of heated discussion, revisions to the city’s Haulers’ Ordinance are finally headed to Council, with one major sticking point remaining.


Currently, the ordinance has a chain of appeals for private solid waste collection services found in violation of code that ends with City Council. But staff has recommended that this be changed, with final appeals ending at the City Manager’s office.


Though there was some discussion on the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, members ultimately presented a united front, voting 6-0 to approve the ordinance. However, they recommended that the appeals process include final appeal to City Council, not the manager. Commissioner Rick Cofer was absent.


Commissioner James Nortery did question whether it might not be better to settle disputes outside of the public eye, but ultimately sided with his fellow commissioners.


Andrew Dobbs, who spoke on behalf of Texas Campaign for the Environment and the Austin Zero Waste Alliance, told the commission that despite having disagreed with haulers “plenty of times” in the past, they were standing with them in requesting the appeals process ending at City Council.


“It’s a really easy choice for TCE and for AZWA, because we’re both way into democracy,” said Dobbs. “It’s just not appropriate to end up with an appointed official. Ultimately, there’s got to be that (public) process.”


Though the final appeal ended at City Council for the past 19 years, no appeal has made it that far. Adam Gregory of Texas Disposal Systems explained that this was beside the point.


“Our main concern is that the ordinance as written is vague enough, and grants the staff enough power that they can actually, by exercising the rights it gives them, cross the line from administering an ordinance to shaping policy,” said Gregory. “If we are going to grant them the authority to revoke licenses, there needs to be a check and balance on that power to an elected body as opposed to, perhaps, an individual bureaucrat.”


“We hope that we don’t have to make a very big deal about this to Council,” said Gregory.


Director of Code Compliance Carl Smart explained staff’s position.


“The reason we recommended ending it with the City Manager is just because we felt like it was more of an enforcement and administrative function versus a policy-setting function,” said Smart. He said he would be fine with whatever the commission decided even if “we ended up having a staff recommendation versus a commission recommendation.”


“I think staff still feels like it could be handled with two levels, with the director and City Manager level. So that’s staff’s recommendation,” Smart told In Fact Daily. “But like I told the commission, we can agree to disagree on that particular point, because the rest of the ordinance and all the other changes, we have a consensus… It is remarkable, and we are pleased with that.”


In addition to the appeals process, changes to the existing Haulers’ Ordinance detail reporting requirements, licensing and fees, and establish enforcement guidelines for the city’s Code Compliance Department.

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