John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Monday, November 28, 2011


Tonight the city council will vote on whether or not to adopt the organized hauling plan that has been developed over a process that, it's fair to say, has been going on at least since last summer.

The out-of-town hauler group, which is probably more concerned about what might happen on their turf in Roseville, sent another big mailing to residents to drum up opposition.  However, with the city actually having specifics of a plan to share with people, I've noticed a much higher proportion of e-mails and phone messages in favor of the organization plan than was the case in the past.

Still, people are skeptical -- they've learned not to trust haulers, and so they sometimes don't believe the numbers the city has obtained through this process.  One person who wrote assumed that the city postcard's rates must be talking about cost per week, not cost per month for weekly service.  He could not believe that he would see a 60% savings.  It's ironic that peoples' distrust of haulers' rate quotes, based on bad experiences, has led many to trust a group of haulers (defending their profits) over their city government (trying to save them millions over the next few years).

Meanwhile, today's mail brought me a copy of Little Canada's city newsletter -- something we often get, due to being in the 55117 ZIP code.  It mentions that they received the results of a scientific survey of their residents about satisfaction with various city services.  Among the very highest-rated: their organized refuse & recycling program, which 96% of Little Canada residents rate as "excellent" or "good."  I've heard that White Bear Lake found similar results in their own similar survey in the past year.

Many people are afraid of change, and I suspect that they have a particular cynicism about trash because of experiences dealing with many haulers.  But if Maplewood passes this plan, I expect that it will reach the same level of popularity as organized systems have in our neighbor cities -- and when the contract expires, no serious candidate for city office will campaign on a platform of going back to an open system (just as candidates opposing organized trash this year were not willing to voice any complaints about organized recycling).  After people see the benefits, it's going to be tough to run on a promise of doubling everyone's rates in order for them to enjoy "choice" and the privilege of having half a dozen or more trucks drive down their street on trash day in place of one.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

City Postcard About Trash Proposal

The city has sent out a postcard to let residents know about the proposed trash contract and its prices, which we will be voting on next Monday.

I've gotten a couple of calls today from folks who received the card but were confused by the "EOW" (every other week) option.  To be clear, every other week is an option for the 20 gallon container size, for households with very little trash.  All of the other options (20, 30, 60, 90 gallon) are for weekly pickup, just as people are accustomed to.

Another point of clarification: The exact container sizes are not known at this time; they should be in the usual range (90 to 98 gallons, for instance, for the largest size), and will depend on the vendor and model of carts ultimately chosen for purchase if the city adopts the plan.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Draft Contract & Prices Now Public

Yesterday afternoon, the packet for Monday's coming council meeting was posted on the city website. Item I.2.a is the draft trash hauling contract with Allied Waste and an accompanying staff report.

Jumping to the meat of it, here are the prices residents will pay if we adopt the contract. The cost of city-owned carts (aka trash bins) is included, assumed at a cost of 75 cents per month (which is on the high end of estimates; I expect it actually to be less, perhaps as low as 40 cents, but the exact amount depends on financing details).

To make it easier to look at your current bill and compare, I've calculated and included the two taxes that would apply -- for the county and for the state -- in the table below.

Total Bill
20 gal EOW $4.97 $1.39 $0.48 $6.85
20 gal $6.78 $1.90 $0.66 $9.34
30 gal $7.72 $2.16 $0.75 $10.63
60 gal $8.66 $2.42 $0.84 $11.93
90 gal $9.72 $2.72 $0.95 $13.39

Service Cost: Includes base cost, fuel, disposal, and the cost for the city to buy carts.
CEC: Ramsey County Environmental Charge, a 28% tax
SWMT: Minnesota Solid Waste Management Tax, 9.75%
EOW: Trash bin is picked up every other week rather than weekly

To compare the proposed prices, first look at your current bill to find your billing period -- it's typically two or three months. Find your service level on the table, multiply the number in the last column by two or three months, and compare it to the amount of the check you write today, including all fees, surcharges, and taxes.

For the average household, savings would be around 50%. Here are some comparisons to actual, specific bills in my collection.

  • This Tennis Sanitation customer with a 60-gallon container has a better deal (possibly as a new customer), since their bill does not include the usual fuel surcharge, and pays $34.58 total for two months. For this household with a special deal, the proposed price of $23.86 for two months would still be a savings of 31%.
  • The first bill in my collection, which started me down the path of studying hauler rates and fees and ultimately writing a report on the subject, was this one. This household was charged $137.31 for three months of service on a 90-gallon container. Under the proposed contract, their three-month bill would be $40.17 -- savings of 71%. If we adopt the proposed contract, it will save this household a whopping $388.56 per year.
  • This bill is has the lowest rate of any customer I have yet found in Maplewood, even including townhome associations. Their current bottom line is $28.93 for two months, 60 gallons. Their total price under the proposed contract, including all taxes and fees, would be $23.86 -- still 18% lower than their current bill.
Take a look at your most recent trash bill. How much would the city contract save you?


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

2011 Results

The election results are in, and I lost. The two candidates funded and promoted by the haulers, Bob Cardinal and Marv Koppen, won.

I'm of course disappointed by the results, but I knew this was possible as a result of the trash controversy and the hauler money that could be spent against me. In the FAQ I wrote last year, as we were going into our first public hearing on the trash topic, I wrote:

If I vote for this, it will be because I believe it's the right decision for the residents of Maplewood. If I get voted out of office for choosing what I have carefully concluded is right, rather than what other people tell me is popular, I can live with that.

That wasn't mere rhetoric. I have no regrets about standing by my convictions. I believe our system of government relies on representatives who are willing to do the right thing even when it may not seem popular. As a candidate four years ago, I ran on a promise to be that kind of leader, and I didn't break that promise for the sake of re-election. For all the cash these haulers showered upon their benefactors and spent against me, they never had enough to buy my conscience.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Following the Trash Money

A campaign finance report for "Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice" has appeared on the City's website this morning.  So if you're wondering who has been paying for all those oversized postcards in your mailbox, here are the four garbage hauling corporations behind the front group:

  • ACE Solid Waste
  • Dick's Sanitation
  • Randy's Environmental
  • Walter's Recycling & Refuse
They report donating a combined $9000, and spending that amount on the race.  In addition, three of these haulers (Dick's, Randy's, Walter's) have individual officers and owners who were big donors to the Koppen campaign; according to his latest report, eleven hauler-affiliated individuals each gave him the $300 maximum contribution.  Add those numbers, and it looks to me like the haulers have spent more on today's election than any of the candidates.

Of these four "Citizen Choice" haulers, only Walters is licensed for residential service in Maplewood, and they apparently have very few accounts here.  I was never able to locate one of their bills in my study, but I did find customers of theirs in Roseville -- where they charge those customers rates that are higher than what they report to the city per licensing requirements.

As I've said before, these outside corporations are meddling in our election because they want to intimidate other local governments.  They want to protect their own profits and scare other city officials away from scrutinizing their dubious business practices.

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Campaign Lit: Proven Leadership

This year we decided to do a full-color, full-page insert in the Maplewood Review.  This design has a lot more text than is usually a good idea for a political flier, but we figured that folks reading the local weekly newspaper are likely to be the kind of folks who might read this. The size of the piece also gave me a place to list all of the organizational and individual endorsements I had received when we went to press.  (Click on the image to open a larger version.)

Maplewood has come a long way forward in the past four years, and I'm very proud to have played a key role in changing our direction for the better.

Some candidates, and the out-of-town haulers pouring money into our race to defeat me, are trying to make the election all about one vote on November 28th.  But of course we're choosing councilmembers to serve for four years, starting in January -- and there will be many issues besides trash that the council will face over that term.  All of the candidates have been on the council before, and if you compare our records, I hope you'll agree that I have demonstrated both sensible policy positions and the ability to actually work with my colleagues to accomplish them.


Monday, November 07, 2011

Campaign Lit: Apple and Oranges

Here's the next piece that we did.

I like the nice, wholesome apple as a reference to my favorite postcard from the 2007 campaign, "Bad Apple."


Campaign Lit: Charting Success

My challengers don't talk much about what they did in office, probably because there isn't a lot to be proud of.  Cave's brief tenure left a mess that my colleagues and I have spent four years cleaning up, and Cardinal seems to have spent his time as mayor voting against things while failing to unite any support behind his own proposals.

Our next postcard went straight at the issue of fiscal responsibility, with a simple graphic to show the difference between my time in office and theirs.

While the opposition gives lip service to fiscal responsibility, the fact is that I've delivered the goods and they did not.


Campaign Lit: Don't Turn Back the Clock

While today's mail brought a couple more postcards from out-of-town haulers like ACE Solid Waste, trying to buy our election, I thought I'd continue uploading the literature that my campaign has done this year.

Much more is at stake in this election than the upcoming vote on November 28th, things the challengers avoid talking about as they focus on a trash decision that will be made before they could take office.  Whoever is elected may, when their four-year term begins in January, continue the city's path to recovery, or turn back the clock to the days of discord and incompetence that I ran against four years ago.  That thought inspired this postcard:


Friday, November 04, 2011

Who's Behind the Independent Expenditures?

Today Maplewood residents were treated to a second postcard in the mail from the front group called "Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice."  While the previous card told people to vote against me, this one encourages them to vote for two candidates who are opposed to any changes: Bob Cardinal and Marv Koppen.

You might be wondering who put up all the money for these expensive city-wide mailers.  Unfortunately, the group hasn't filed a campaign finance report to disclose their contributors or the expenditures they've made to influence the election.  However, a reader wrote in to point out that the domain registration for (the website on their cards) is registered to ACE Solid Waste -- a hauler up in Ramsey, MN, that isn't even licensed to work in Maplewood.

The waste industry has broken every effort by local governments to look at this issue over the last twenty years. Corporations that do no business in Maplewood are willing to spend a lot of money to affect our election, as a warning to other local officials in neighboring communities.  Any elected official thinking about challenging the haulers' cushy status quo, as I have, now knows how much these corporations can spend to punish them in their next election -- and how much cash they're willing to shower upon the candidates who publicly commit themselves to the haulers' corporate agenda.

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Trash Preview in the Review

This week's Maplewood Review includes an article about the draft organized hauling contract, based on the report from staff at our October 24th meeting.  The latest I've heard is that it's planned to have a complete draft contract made public on November 14th.  That would include the specifics in terms of rates per household for various service levels and optional services.

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Campaign Lit: Primary GOTV Postcard

The second piece of literature we created in this campaign was a get-out-the-vote postcard targeted at likely primary supporters, working together with Marv Koppen's campaign.  Here's how it looked:


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Debate Streaming

I just learned that tonight's debate at the Maplewood Library, hosted by the local Republican Party, is planned to be streamed live.  Here's the link.  A reception is supposed to begin at 6:30, and the debate itself is scheduled for 7:00 to 8:30.

The debate is open to the public, so feel free to come on down, or tune in on the internet if you're unable to make it in person.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Campaign Lit: Door Hanger

As we're in the last week before the election, I thought it might be time to look back at the campaign literature that we've produced this year.

Here is our first piece, a door-hanger. As with all my campaign literature, the graphic design is by the lovely and talented Michelle Nephew. We printed it before the primary and have used it for door-knocking and lit drops throughout the campaign. (Click on a picture to see a larger image.)


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Garbage Haulers for Citizen Overcharging

Yesterday many if not all Maplewood homes received a postcard from a group called "Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice," urging residents to vote against me.  In the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, it's perfectly legal for a group of corporations to set up a front group like this (to keep their own company names away from the political dirty work, lest they annoy some of their customers) and use it to spend any amount of money they like to influence an election, as long as it's not coordinated with a candidate.

In Maplewood's case, the vote on what to do over trash is planned to occur before any new councilmembers would take office.  Still, the haulers who oppose this are worried about the bigger picture -- they desperately need to make an example of me, as someone who has merely been willing to even have a discussion about the pros and cons of organized hauling, and as someone who has embarrassed them by shining a light on some of their less scrupulous billing practices and doing my own research and reporting on how many residents are currently overcharged.  Their willingness to pour money into defeating me is meant to warn away any other elected officials around the metro who might be asking about whether trash could be collected more efficiently, affordably, and with less damage to our environment and infrastructure.

Of course, not everyone who receives the postcard is going to see the hauler front group as an altruistic organization simply trying to encourage better informed public policy.  For example, here's an e-mail message I received today:

Mr. Nephew,
If you are behind the effort to find the least expensive garbage vendor for Maplewood, then please continue this effort. I received a propaganda postcard in the mail from the garbage haulers, who are sending a misleading and alarmist message protecting their own interests, not mine.
If you find a viable cost-effective solution for the city that results in one vendor, then go for it. I do not consider it an infringement of my liberties to have the city make a contract with a waste vendor that saves me money.
[Name Withheld]

If you don't like the haulers trying to buy this election, to protect their own corporate profits at your expense, there's still time to help my campaign in the last week before election day.  We'll be delivering literature to homes this coming weekend, and if you can't help in person I still welcome campaign contributions (easily donated online via PayPal).

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