Fort Wayne City Councilmen Russ Jehl and Tom Didier held a briefing Jan. 14 at Citizens Square to address ongoing concerns and issues surrounding Red River Waste Solutions' trash and recycling pickups.
"As you all know, the city administration has requested patience from ratepayers, implying nothing more can be done to improve the service issues because of Red River's bankruptcy," Jehl said. "However, when asking for patience from the ratepayers, it is imperative for us elected officials to be doing everything within our power to lead."
Red River filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Oct. 14. The company services 310,000 households across five states, including Fort Wayne, which has started the fourth of a 7-year contract with the company.
Jehl, a Republican who represents the 2nd District, and fellow Republican Didier, who represents the 3rd District and is seeking the GOP nomination to run for mayor, proposed a four-step action plan and requested that the city administration discuss them during the upcoming briefing to council on Jan. 18.
The action plan is as follows:
- Level with the public: More than a month has passed since the administration has given a substantive update on the garbage service issue. The public needs hope that cannot come from a news release. Does the administration intend to make a switch in its service provider?
- Immediately hire an emergency provider: The city administration should activate the emergency services clause in the garbage services contract and use a third-party provider to reduce the misses and be retained indefinitely. Complacently allowing garbage to pile up around town is simply not necessary.
- Proactively reach out to Red River's workers to stay: With Texas-based Red River's bankruptcy and public relations issues, it will almost certainly continue to lose drivers. Fort Wayne's Solid Waste Department should proactively lead in recruiting and retaining the current Red River drivers, appreciating their experience and value. The drivers alone will get the ratepayer through this present emergency and a future transition.
- Create a real miss list: Solid Waste should create an effective "miss list" plan to identify and collect missed areas, that extends beyond overwhelming 311 with calls. Solid Waste, not Red River, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that miss cycles and miss patterns do not occur.
"The remedies available to us may be limited by the bankruptcy courts, but we need to be using every one we do have," Jehl said. "This has been the problem since the beginning of the contract — not using the tools that are available to fix the problem and instead asking for prolonged patience from the residents."
Ask for a response from Henry's administration to some of the plan items and statements, mayoral spokesman John Perlich wrote in an email, "The City Administration wants to reemphasize to the public that we understand and share the frustrations that residents and neighborhoods have over the collection process. Plans are being worked on to try to get the current challenges corrected in light of the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings involving Red River and the ongoing labor shortage.
"Efforts are also being made to get Indiana law changed that would enable the City to not have to take the lowest bid on future garbage and recycling contracts. House Bill 1286 will receive a hearing in the House Local Government Committee on Wednesday (Jan. 19) in Indianapolis.
"There was a status conference in bankruptcy court on Thursday (Jan. 13). The City’s legal team is encouraged by the progress being made and the dialogue as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. There will be an update for the public/media/City Council on Tuesday evening at City Council’s next meeting."
The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 18 in Room 35 at Citizen Square. The meeting will also be streamed on CityTV and on Facebook @FWCityCouncilMeetings.
Perlich's response went on to say, "Hiring an emergency provider is easier said than done. We have attempted to do this over the past number of weeks and months. Other local/regional/national haulers are experiencing illnesses and labor issues as well and aren’t in position to send the number of drivers and trucks that would be needed to be the lead provider in an emergency situation. That’s why the City continues to help supplement Red River by having City staff make collections. Garbage and recycling collection continues to be running a day and a half to two days behind. We’re hopeful that doesn’t last too much longer. We currently have six trucks that are running routes in addition to the trucks being run by Red River. Collections will continue over the weekend and on the MLK Day holiday in efforts to catch up on misses.
"On point one in the statement from the councilman (on a month passing since the administration gave the public an update), we have provided updates to the public/media/City Council and will continue to do so. It’s imperative to provide timely information. Recently, formal updates were sent out to the public/media/City Council on December 24 and January 11. Mayor Henry did interviews with media outlets the week before Christmas and the first week of the New Year regarding solid waste services.
"On point three in the statement, our Solid Waste Department is in daily communication with the local Red River drivers to help ensure they stay on the job and know that they are valued. Senior leadership also has regular communication with the local employees."
Didier at the news conference said open communication from the administration is needed to make sure residents know what to expect from their trash provider.
"I appreciate Councilman Jehl bringing this issue to the forefront to increase accountability and transparency, to ensure that we can give residents honest answers," Didier said.
Didier said he and Jehl have been receiving "tremendous" amounts of emails, instant messages and phone calls about the ongoing issues.
"These are the type of situations that are frustrating for us because we don't have solid answers," Didier said. "All Russ and I are looking for is the transparency so that we can answer the questions to the constituents. They need to know what is happening for the future."
Jehl said he attended the Northeast Area Partnership meeting Jan. 13 where he asked those in attendance who had had their garbage picked up on time during the last few weeks.
"By my estimation, less than a quarter, probably around 20%, said they had received on-time services," he said.
The contract between Red River and Fort Wayne allows for the city to contract with a third party to collect trash, if at any point Red River is unable to collect for seven days, with a one-day notice to Red River, with a cost to be paid by Red River.
Jehl said the idea of bringing in a third-party service provider has been discussed over the last couple of years.
"There is absolutely no excuse in any way, shape or form for garbage to be sitting at the curb for any more than a week," Jehl said.