Taylor, Bartlett each deserve blame for trash mess (UPDATED)
CORRECTION: I am informed that my inference concerning Cheryl Cohenour's service on the TARE board, based on frequent news reports mentioning her as a board member prior to 2011, was incorrect. Taylor campaign research director Joey Wignarajah contacted me (directly this time) and provided me with TARE board minutes documenting Cheryl Cohenour's 2008 departure and 2011 return.
In 2008, Cohenour was replaced on the TARE board by Taylor's appointment of Michael Pierce. The City Council confirmed Pierce's appointment on October 30, 2008. Cohenour was brought back to the board by Bartlett Jr to replace Stephen Schuller and was confirmed by the Council on March 3, 2011.
The TARE minutes, as far as I can tell, are not available online, and the City Council agenda archives continue to be unsearchable (but I'm working to change that). I found no news reports of Cohenour's departure or her return. Wignarajah said he had to file an open records request to get copies of the TARE minutes.
The reason for Cohenour's departure in 2008 would affect the way we interpret her return in 2011. Did she step aside on her own initiative? Did Taylor decide not to reappoint Cohenour because Taylor disagreed with her views on the new trash service? Or did Taylor not reappoint Cohenour because she was unlikely to win confirmation from a City Council unhappy with the proposed new approach to trash service?
I have revised this article in light of this new information. Notwithstanding the interruption in Cohenour's service, it still appears to be the case that four of the seven TARE members (Anderson, Berlin, Bowles, Pierce) who approved the bid documents -- the requirements for the new trash service, the basis upon which proposals were evaluated and a winner selected -- were holdovers from the Taylor administration. Between the time the bid documents were approved and the contract was awarded, Bartlett Jr appointed Councilor David Patrick to replace one of the four, Beverly Anderson, the fallout of a series of disputes involving board members and contractors. There is no question that the essential features of the new trash service were defined and in use for the pilot program that was conducted while Taylor was mayor and an ex officio board member.
A few weeks ago, word reached me that the Kathy Taylor camp was displeased with a blog entry in which I opined that the former Tulsa mayor deserved an equal share of the blame with current mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr for our transition from a trash system that Tulsans overwhelmingly liked to one that has had numerous problems.
Here's what I wrote:
Whoever wins, we'll still be stuck with the complicated and messy trash system imposed upon us by board members that Kathy appointed and Dewey re-appointed (or didn't bother to replace).
The counterclaim from the Taylor camp came in the form of an anonymous Word document that bore (in the document's properties) the name of Joey Wignarajah, research director for the Taylor campaign. The document claimed that my assertion about who appointed the board members was incorrect.
There are seven TARE board members: The mayor (or his proxy) and six appointees. They are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council to serve a three-year term.
An appointee continues to serve until a replacement is appointed, even if his term has expired. The mayor can keep a member in office without the council's confirmation by simply refusing to reappoint the current member or to appoint a replacement. While we passed a charter amendment a few years ago to allow the council to make an appointment if the mayor delays for more than two months, the City Attorney opined that that provision didn't apply to authorities like TARE which were created by state law. Bartlett Jr chose not to make new appointments to replace three of Taylor's appointees on the board (Bowles, Powell, Schuller) until the major decisions about the new trash service were made.
Bartlett maintains that he wants to keep the three members because of their experience and the major service decisions that are looming for the trash board as its long-term hauling contracts expire.
In July 2010, the City Council had rejected Bartlett Jr's reappointment of Bowles, Powell, and Schuller, all of whom were Taylor holdovers. The Councilors wanted new board members who would be responsive to citizen desires to keep what they liked about our trash service.
The document from the Taylor campaign acknowledges that Steve Berlin, William Bowles, and Michael Pierce were her appointees, but it cites Cheryl Cohenour as originally a Bartlett Jr appointee with a starting date of service of 3/4/11.
I recalled that Cohenour had served on the TARE board at least as early as 1998. She was Anna Falling's leading antagonist during the controversy over trash rates and Falling's attempt at a free recycling pilot program. Based on Cohenour's departure at the expiration of her term in 2013, her $500 contribution to Taylor's 2006 campaign, her frequent appearance as a key TARE board member in news stories during the Taylor administration, and no news reports of her departure or return, I assumed that Cohenour's service on the board was continuous, and that Taylor must have either reappointed her or allowed her to continue without reappointment. That turned out not to be the case. Taylor did not reappoint Cohenour in 2008 and instead appointed Michael Pierce.
So it's true that, when the new contract was awarded, only three of the seven members of the TARE board had been appointed by Taylor.
More significant, however, is the date when the request for proposals (RFP) was issued. At that point the shape of the new system -- defined by the requirements that the winning bidder would have to meet -- was set in stone. At that point four of the seven board members (Anderson, Berlin, Bowles, Pierce), a majority, had been appointed or retained by Taylor. Randy Sullivan and Cheryl Cohenour were the only new Bartlett appointees (plus City Manager Jim Twombly as the mayor's ex officio designee).
It could be argued that the groundwork for the bid documents was laid while there were even more Taylor appointees still on board. Sullivan had been confirmed only six weeks before the bid documents were issued, replacing Taylor appointee Steve Powell, and Sullivan and the rest of the board declined to change the bid documents in response to a request by the City Council to have bidders also include a price for continuing traditional trash service (twice-a-week, customer-supplied bins). The implication is that the process of preparing the bid documents began much earlier in the year, and Sullivan's arrival didn't herald any major changes in TARE policy.
Going back even further, the fundamental features of the new trash system were well-formed over three years earlier, during the Taylor administration. The pilot program for the new system was launched by the TARE board while Taylor was mayor and an ex officio member of the board (either in person or through her designee). A November 5, 2007, story shows that all the basic elements were in place -- mechanically lifted, standard city-issued carts, and half the service for nearly the same cost.
Eventually, a plan to change all twice-a-week service routes to the new once-a-week service by 2011 is expected to be presented to the council.
"I really think this is the future of Tulsa's trash collection," said Joe Moran, chairman of the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy....
Each residence was provided with one 96-gallon, wheeled trash cart and an 18-gallon recycling bin. Smaller sizes of carts also were available.
The monthly curbside service fee for the program is $12.52, which includes recycling pickup regardless of whether the customer chooses to recycle....
Cheryl Cohenour, who heads up the authority's long-range planning committee, said it has been the panel's goal to adopt a uniform service across the city.
"We're going to have to do a lot of education to get people prepared," she said. "Change can be difficult. But these survey results show it's possible."
A February 1, 2008, story shows that the Council was expressing concern that the pilot program was not producing enough savings to the ratepayer to justify the added inconvenience, and that the trash board understood that there were political issues surrounding the changes:
Some councilors have argued that the program, which has converted five routes to once-a-week, cart-based service that includes recycling, should provide a better savings.
The program's monthly curbside rate is $12.37, compared with the normal $13.44 rate for the twice-a-week service without recycling....
The trash board is looking to hire a management and engineering consulting firm, R.W. Beck, to help explore its options for a uniform trash service across the city and to look at the long-term savings that could be realized by switching Tulsa's standard service....
Board members hope to have some information in hand before the end of May to help persuade councilors to continue the pilot program.
"That's going to be a major political hurdle for us to overcome," said Joe Moran, the trash board's chairman.
A May 7, 2008, story has Cohenour urging the council to extend the pilot program another six months, with the council dubious about cutting service in half while only cutting $1.07 a month off of the rates.
In September 2009, Taylor appointed the Mayor's Task Force on Refuse and Recycling. A year later, the task force Taylor appointed recommended a trash service with substantially the same features that were ultimately included in the new system.
Throughout Kathy Taylor's term of office from April 2006 through November 2009, questions and concerns about the new system were being raised, and Taylor could have used her power of appointment and her seat on the board to shift it to a more customer-oriented direction. But she didn't.
Dewey Bartlett Jr had enough time to replace a majority of the TARE board prior to the finalization of the bid documents and to take advantage of his ex officio position on the board to revise the board's plans. Instead, Bartlett Jr expressly chose to keep Taylor appointees on the board while all the important decisions were being made, despite the objections of city councilors.
If you don't like paying twice the price for the service you used to have (or almost the same price for half the service), if you don't like the automated trucks leaving every cart on your block in the middle of the street on trash pickup day, if you don't like mandatory carts with loose lids that let vermin in and odors out, both Kathy Taylor and Dewey Bartlett Jr deserve the blame. Either one of them could have exerted leadership to ensure that the new system retained the features Tulsans liked about the old trash service, but neither did. Both Taylor and Bartlett Jr stood by while an unelected board radically transformed a basic service of local government, over the objections of the citizens.
MORE from the Taylor mayoralty:
At a May trash board meeting, member Cheryl Cohenour talked about participants getting to keep the carts and the board reimbursing the independent haulers for the cost.
But since that time, it apparently was decided that the haulers would instead pick up the carts.
The City Council last month signaled the end of the yearlong program, which converted the routes to a once-a-week, cart-based service that included recycling, by allowing it to expire.
The routes this week reverted to the city's standard twice-a-week service.
Councilors expressed frustration about the meager savings experienced by participants and were reluctant to change a service that most residents enjoy.
Curbside collection rates for the pilot program were $12.37 per month compared with the $13.44 per month for the twice-a-week service.
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