Friday, April 7, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Council OKs waiver of anti-lobbying ordinance

City Council on Thursday approved a temporary waiver of the city’s anti-lobbying ordinance for companies and individuals who wish to talk to the Council working group on solid waste issues.

The vote was 7-1-1, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair voting no, Council Member Ora Houston abstaining and Council members Greg Casar and Alison Alter absent for the vote.

Council approved the establishment of the working group on March 23, but the city’s legal staff said Council would need to waive the anti-lobbying rules if it wanted to meet with the companies who have been bidding on and getting contracts related to solid waste.

Solid waste has become a difficult issue for the city because Council has rejected bids for collection of citywide refuse, recycling and organics for city facilities and has also postponed indefinitely a solicitation related to organics processing services. In addition, Council postponed indefinitely the sale and removal of compost materials and withdrew a solicitation for removal and reuse of biosolids from the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant.

As a consequence, waste materials – biosolids in particular – are piling up, and staff is not able to issue solicitations until the Council working group comes back with recommendations for how to deal with these issues.

Council Member Leslie Pool is the chair of the working group. Other members include Council members Delia Garza, Ann Kitchen and Alter. They are charged with making decisions about future solicitations for solid waste proposals, but not evaluating those proposals. According to city documents, the group is scheduled to return to Council with recommendations no later than June 1.

This is particularly important in the biosolids contract, according to Austin Water Assistant Director Daryl Slusher. The utility plans to give the Water and Wastewater Commission an update on the biosolids contract and meet with stakeholders and prospective vendors in April.

When Council rejected the previous request for proposals in October, it instructed Austin Water to take a new RFP to both commissions before issuing the procurement, Slusher said. But now there is the extra wrinkle of the Council working group.

According to the department’s timeline, staff is supposed to meet with both commissions in May and June and advertise the RFP on June 27. If all goes according to the schedule, Council will be considering the bid in November or December, the contract would be awarded on January 1, 2018, and the work will start on the new contract on March 1, 2018.

A memo from Assistant City Manager Robert Goode said the anti-lobbying ordinance was still in force for two of four solicitations and so Council needed to make sure people wanting to speak to them about the issues would not suffer repercussions later on if they bid on the projects.

Members of the professional solid waste community addressed Council on March 23 as well as during Thursday’s meeting. One of the biggest problems in awarding bids has been how to deal with companies like Texas Disposal Systems, which has declined to bid but lobbied the city for different outcomes on several contracts. Texas Disposal Systems has a long history with the city. This document is about the biosolids contract Council put on hold last fall.

Steve Shannon of Waste Connections told Council at the March 23 meeting that the Austin Resource Recovery staff “is entirely capable and does a very good and thorough and accurate job issuing RFPs and bids, evaluating those in bringing those recommendations” to the Zero Waste Advisory Commission and Council for approval.

“The pattern of the city or the (Zero Waste Advisory Commission) ignoring, rejecting and/or arbitrarily or capriciously referring RFPs and bids is having a definite negative and chilling effect on the RFP process,” he said. He told Council on Thursday that his company does not have the time or money to hire teams of lobbyists. He was clearly concerned that the waiver of the anti-lobbying ordinance would become permanent. Pool and Mayor Steve Adler assured him that the waiver was temporary and would only last as long as the committee meets.

Another solid waste bidder, Phil Gosh of Organics by Gosh, spoke to Council during both meetings. He told Council on Thursday that he was concerned about the proposal because “those who have violations” are promoting the waiver.

Gosh currently has a contract with the city to recycle organics as a pilot project. But on March 23, he described “feeling kind of beat up, or actually kind of bullied” because of misinformation and partial truths that he said had been read about his company.

Pool told him she wanted to make sure that he participated in the committee’s meetings and explained that in order for him to participate, Council needed to waive the anti-lobbying ordinance.

Photo by John Flynn

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Resource Recovery: Formerly Solid Waste Services. The department in charge of handling solid waste disposal, recycling, and--in what is still a pilot program--curb-side composting for the City of Austin.

City of Austin Anti-lobbying ordinance: Enacted December 2011, this ordinance provides a no-contact period for firms bidding for City of Austin contracts.

Texas Disposal Systems (TDS): An Austin-San Antonio landfill, recycling and composting system.

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