John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Thursday, September 29, 2011

MNA Endorsement

Today I received a letter letting me know that the Minnesota Nurses Association, a union representing nearly 19,000 RNs across the state, has endorsed me.  It is humbling and truly an honor to receive this endorsement, knowing not only what these professionals do for Minnesotans every day, but the literally life-saving difference nurses have made for my immediate family.

I've uploaded the endorsement letter to my document archive.

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My Form Response

With the volume of e-mail received as a result of the misleading Tennis postcard, I found I could not write individual replies to them all, certainly not in the time before Monday night's meeting. Here is the form letter I wound up sending to most of the folks who wrote to me on the topic:

Hi, and thanks for writing to me about the trash issue. I apologize for the form letter. I will not have time ahead of tonight's meeting to write individual replies to everyone, but I want to share some information.

First is that, despite what you probably were told in a postcard from Tennis, there will be no decision on whether or not to choose organized trash hauling Monday night. Due to various aspects of state law and timelines in this process, the earliest that such a decision could even be made is late November, after a required public hearing.

Second is to explain where the process is at. We approved and released a request-for-proposals. Four haulers made proposals: Tennis, Allied, Waste Management, and Highland. The lowest bid was Allied. City staff is asking for formal authorization to negotiate the specific terms of a contract with Allied, according to the details in the RFP and the proposal that they made; and to move along and negotiate with the others if talks with Allied fail. Tennis apparently sent their postcard out as soon as they learned that they had not offered the lowest price and so would not be first in line for negotiations. As far as I am aware, they have not withdrawn their proposal, so it is entirely possible that the city could end up negotiating a contract with them through this process.

Our goal is to have a complete plan, in the form of a proposed contract, to consider at the November meeting, after a public hearing. After that hearing, we could vote to decide whether to keep the current system or adopt the alternate contract system. I don't think that's a decision that can be made without knowing exactly what the new system would be and what it would cost our residents.

Full details of the costs in the four hauler proposals are not public at this time. What has been stated in the staff report for Monday is that the rates in all the proposals are lower than what Maplewood residents pay today, and staff has estimated savings of $800,000 or more per year, comparing the proposed rates to the current hauler-reported rates. I have found that, in reality, haulers usually charge higher rates than what they report to the city, especially if you include fuel surcharges and similar hauler-created fees. After a contract is negotiated, all of the detailed options and prices would be public in advance of a decision by the council.

From my reading of the organized collection statute, I think it is possible that other alternatives that may yet be proposed could also be considered in November -- for example, the trash haulers could come forward with proposals of their own to address all of the issues that the city has discussed in this very long process over the past year, which might not involve an organized collection system. Having a credible alternative that we could choose to adopt gives us considerable leverage in negotiating any improvements to the current open hauling system, if that is the council's ultimate direction.

Thanks again for taking the time to express your thoughts on this topic.

John Nephew, Councilmember
Maplewood City Council


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2012 Maximum Levy in the Review

Last week's Maplewood Review included an informative article about our mid-September decision on the 2012 maximum levy and related draft budget.

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This Month's Tennis Postcard

Last week the staff report for this past Monday's meeting was made public on the city website.  As I mentioned in an earlier posting, it revealed that the lowest-cost proposal for a city-wide service was made by Allied Waste.  Tennis Sanitation (another one of the proposers) immediately mailed the following postcard to all of their Maplewood customers (click on the image for a larger version):

Not surprisingly, the City Council was deluged with phone calls and e-mails from residents who were falsely told by this postcard that Monday night was going to have a decision on whether or not to organize hauling, when in fact the agenda item was one step in the formal process of developing a an alternative system that could be considered as an option at the end of this whole trash study -- something Tennis should well understand, seeing as they are one of four competing proposers in that process.  (And, as it happens, the item was tabled to allow the whole council an opportunity to read the confidential documents of all the proposals before making a decision.)

If you're an official in another city looking at this issue now or in the future, be prepared for this sort of thing from individual haulers and their trade association.  Take note that providing truthful information to their customers, or behaving in a professional manner relative to the formal procurement process, may not be priorities for them.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Regional Labor Federation Endorsement

I'm very pleased to share the news that I have been endorsed by the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, which has over 100 affiliated local unions in the East Metro.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Trash Proposals Scored

Over the past several months, I've served as a member of the Trash Hauling Working Group.  We've looked at the current system for trash in Maplewood, developed a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an alternative organized collection system, and evaluated the proposals that we received in response to that RFP.  The proposals have now been scored and ranked.

Item I1 on Monday's upcoming council meeting agenda is a request for the City Council to authorize city staff to begin negotiating a detailed draft contract with the top-ranked proposer, Allied Waste Services.  (Here's a link to the staff report for just this item, so you don't have to download the whole meeting packet.)  If those negotiations fail, staff would move on to the second-ranked proposer, and so forth, as outlined in the RFP.

It appears that any of the four responsive proposals would save residents money.  More specifically, the report states that,
...when comparing the average proposed prices of the top three proposals to the current, average published rates as reported by the licensed haulers to the City for 2011, residents collectively could save over $500,000 per year. If the City is able to successfully negotiate with the top ranked proposer, Allied, this savings compared to average reported rates could be over $800,000 per year. It is recommended that further details of proposals and proposed prices not be released publicly until such time as a contract is successfully negotiated and executed.
Keep in mind, that $800,000+ annual savings estimate is based on reported hauler rates.  As I found in my study of actual Maplewood trash bills, the amount that residents actually pay is substantially higher.  When you include the fuel surcharges and other hauler added fees (which would not exist under an organized collection arrangement), the bills I looked at were on average nearly 26% higher than the hauler-reported rates.

In addition, the terms of the RFP peg future increases to objective statistics (the CPI, the diesel fuel index, and changes in tipping fees), which would protect residents from the large and apparently arbitrary price increases some haulers have imposed.


Friday, September 16, 2011

LWV Forum: October 20

Mark your calendar: The League of Women Voters of Roseville, Maplewood, Falcon Heights, Little Canada, and Lauderdale, is sponsoring a forum for Maplewood City Council candidates on October 20th.  The forum will be at 7 PM in City Council chambers at Maplewood City Hall.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Trash Forum in Roseville Tonight

This evening, the Roseville Citizens League will be hosting a public forum to discuss organized trash hauling, and I will be one of the panelists for the discussion.  Our neighbors to the west have been keeping an eye on Maplewood's organized trash process, and some of them are asking whether it might be a good thing for their city.

The forum will be held at the Fairview Community Center at Fairview Ave and County Road B.  It begins at 7:00 p.m. and should adjourn by 9:00 p.m.  Roseville residents are invited to bring copies of their own trash bills, for reference.

You can read more about the event in the Roseville Review, the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, and Roseville Patch.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fish Creek in the STrib

A friend who lives in a different suburb called my attention to an article not long ago in the Star Tribune on the topic of our plan for acquiring the former CoPar development property for conservation in the Fish Creek Greenway, so I wanted to put a link to it here.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Changing (or Enforcing) Current Trash Ordinance?

An article in this week's Maplewood Review discusses last week's council workshop, in which we explored issues about the current trash hauling ordinance and its enforcement or lack thereof.  One important take-away is that, roughly speaking, actually enforcing the current ordinance (which some have argued is all that needs to be done) would cost about as much in terms of city resources, staff time, etc., as managing an organized hauling contract.  And another is that residents on average are paying significantly more than the rates reported to the city when haulers renewed their licenses at the start of the year.

My part of the workshop was focused on the issue of rate reporting, and the big gap between what many Maplewood residents pay and what the haulers report to the city as their rates.

For background, check out my original April 25th presentation about hauler bills, my related presentation to the Ramsey County League of Local Government in June, and my written report for the August 29th workshop.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

AFSCME Endorsement

I am very pleased to share the news that I have been endorsed by AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees. I believe AFSCME is the union/bargaining group that represents the largest number of Maplewood employees.

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