Robbie Perkins (back to camera) discusses his interest in pursuing a regional solid waste solution with fellow city council members (l-r) Mary Rakestraw, Trudy Wade and Dianne Bellamy-Small.
Prompted by a recent development allowing Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan to have a vote in the city of Greensboro’s contentious solid waste process, Councilman Robbie Perkins sought in vain to get the city to open up talks with Randolph County to explore the possibility of sending the city’s solid waste to a planned regional landfill there.
Perkins said he asked Mayor Bill Knight to put the proposal on the agenda for a briefing meeting this afternoon at city hall, and the mayor refused, saying the timing was “premature.” So Perkins raised his proposal during the half-hour segment at the beginning of the meeting set aside for members of the public to address council.
But the topic came up at the end of the briefing anyway. After brief and unremarkable presentations from Downtown Greensboro Inc. and an executive search firm contracted to help the city council find a new city attorney, members held a candid and sometimes contentious discussion about solid waste options and Vaughan’s role in the process. Knight declared the briefing over, stated that people could speak whenever they felt like it and left before the discussion was through.
“Since the city attorney ruled that Ms. Vaughan is back in the mix in terms of voting on the contract, it seems like the dynamic in this discussion has changed,” Perkins said. “And so I thought it would be appropriate for the council to at least take a look at the Randolph County option, not in terms of us buying a piece of their landfill but just having the manager discuss with them what type of contract could be worked out with them and what type of tipping fee they would charge.”
County officials estimate that the landfill will be open in 18 months to two years.
Councilwoman Trudy Wade, who made the motion at last weeks’ meeting to reopen Phase III of the White Street Landfill and initiate contract negotiations with Gate City Waste Services, dismissed Perkins’ proposal.
“I just think we might be jumping the gun on going long range at this point when we’ve just chosen someone to do something at the landfill,” Wade said. “I just think we should see if this company that we’re supposedly going to contract with has a long-term plan for us or has anything they might add to the discussion before we as a city jump out…. So I think it’s only fair if you’re going to negotiate a contract [to] see if the vendor you’ve chosen had any thoughts along those lines. And I think we owe it to them.”
Both Perkins and Councilman Danny Thompson have expressed interest in a long-term, regional solution to the city’s solid waste challenges, but Perkins leans toward having the city be a customer while Thompson has recently suggested temporarily reopening the White Street Landfill and plowing the funds into a solid waste enterprise fund that could be used to buy an equity stake in a future regional landfill.
“It would seem to me that if we were going to negotiate with Randolph on the front end and be their money source for that new expansion of the landfill and we had the opportunity to direct as much waste as we produce to their facility, then you could negotiate very, very favorable terms,” Perkins said. “Just like an anchor tenant does with a shopping center, they always get the best deal. And we would be Randolph County’s anchor tenant for their landfill. And we could get one heck of a deal.”
Thompson parried, “I’m not certain that the potential of an equity partnership is not out of the realm.”
City staff and its consultant, HDR Engineering, have estimated that the city could save about $1 million on hauling were the city to divert waste from its current destination in Montgomery County to Randolph County.
“Have you talked to anybody in Randolph about that?” Perkins asked.
“I’ve talked to entities,” Thompson responded.
Perkins: “Who have you talked to?”
Thompson: “I can’t say.”
Perkins: “You can’t say. Well, I’ve talked to the chairman of the Randolph County Commission and he said he would prefer tip fees versus the other and the reason he gave was that it would be hard enough to expand that landfill without interjecting Greensboro as an owner. And that was this morning at about 11 o’clock.”
Thompson: “I would expect him to say that.”
Perkins: “So why are you trying to pursue something that they don’t want? Because you haven’t talked to anybody.”
Thompson: “No, I have.”
Perkins: “Okay, but you won’t reveal who you talked to.”
Thompson: “Okay, there you go.”
Vaughan, Perkins and Councilwoman challenged the conservative faction that has been maneuvering the city to reopen the landfill to allow the city to bid against private vendors to operate the landfill. The two sides argued on whether staff has produced those numbers to council already.
“I remember an IFYI where we documented the current costs where we provided an assumption about different tonnage levels,” City Manager Rashad Young said, “but we’ve not done an analysis on the current RFP respondents to that question.”
Thompson indicated the numbers aren't particularly significant one way or the other.
“They’re either going to do it for free or it’s going to be $1 million or $2 million,” he said.
“You don’t know that,” Perkins said. “I don’t know that. How do you know that?”
Thompson said, “We’ve already got bids on the table for $1 million and $2 million. They can either be below that – for free – or they can be at that price or higher.”
Perkins said, “Why would the city of Greensboro not be able to bid cheaper than anybody and therefore save us more money than anybody without having to make a profit on their work out there?”
Wade and Knight expressed as an article of faith that private companies can save more money than city staff an.
“We all know private industry is more efficient and does it better, because the city is going to pay you whether you’re good or you’re not good or whatever,” Wade said. “Now, I’m going to say that when you work in private industry, if you’re not producing at a certain amount you’re not going to be there very long.”
“We are trying to stop the bleeding that’s been going on,” Knight said. He added, “Private industry can do a better job, in my opinion.”
Early in the freewheeling discussion, council members discussed the ramifications of Vaughan having a vote in the landfill issue going forward.
Wade indicated that Vaughan’s husband, Don, is involved with the landfill in regards to methane reserves. The city gives methane from the landfill to Cone Mills as an economic development incentive.
“I don’t know how she’s voting on the landfill at all,” Wade said.
Vaughan responded, “That’s a totally separate issue.”
“If you want to pull Waste Industries in just to deny me my ability [to vote],” she added, “then I think that’s pretty transparent on why you’re going to do that.”
Wade responded, “If you vote against Gate City, we’re going to have a very serious problem picking anyone but Waste Industries because that would be the only way you couldn’t vote on it and you know what the vote is right now. And we’ve all seen what you’ve put [1, 2] on YES! Weekly blog.”
Vaughan has indicated in recent interviews that the city should honor a “pact” made with residents when the council voted to close the landfill about 10 years ago, and has suggested that the council hold separate votes on whether to reopen the landfill and which company to award a contract to.
“You do not know that I would support Waste Industries,” she said.
Interim City Attorney Tom Pollard said some council members have approached him about whether Vaughan should be allowed to vote, and that he plans to review information they provide him.
“It’s going to take me awhile to get through it,” he said.
Wade requested that as long as Pollard was looking into whether Vaughan has a conflict of interest, he should also investigate whether Perkins has a conflict of interest. A commercial real estate broker at Perkins’ company represents properties for DH Griffin, a Greensboro salvage company whose executives are involved with the newly formed Gate City Waste Services.
“The only reason for this pushback is you’re just hell-bent on reopening the landfill,” Perkins charged. “That’s what you want to do no matter what. Now, if you’re really looking for a solution that’s going to benefit this community, you’ve got to look in Randolph County. You can’t not look in Randolph County.”
“I don’t think anybody said they didn’t look in Randolph County,” Wade replied. “We’ve looked at technology and lot of other things, Robbie. Unless you’re just hell-bent on not opening the landfill.”
“I am hell-bent on not opening the landfill,” Perkins agreed.
“I want to be sure we’re looking at all our options,” Wade said. “And I realize we’ve lost $55 million from 2002 to now by not using the resource we’ve had.”
POSTSCRIPT: Vaughan says after the discussion Thompson produced a memo written by acting City Attorney Tom Carruthers in July that he purportedly indicates she should not participate in any ongoing solid waste deliberations. Vaughan says that if interim City Attorney Tom Pollard rescinds his opinion allowing her to vote on the matter, she will consider seeking outside counsel.
"There’s been some discussion that I’m trying to throw the vote to Waste Industries," Vaughan adds, "but I think it’ s pretty clear that I don’t want the landfill open at all."