The Little Falls City Council left Monday’s meeting still grappling with a decision on the city’s next recycling contract.
For the second time in just over a month, the Council decided to take more time to consider its options. That came after almost an hour of discussion and a trio of motions that failed to get enough votes to pass.
“I think it would serve us a lot better if we just give us two weeks to prepare, and have a conversation on July 6, and come up with a discussion and direction from there,” said City Administrator Jon Radermacher, following the second failed motion of the evening.
“We do have the luxury of some time,” he continued. “If it is going to be an RFP (request for proposal), we can roll that out and get that response back in about a month and start conversations about negotiations. I don’t want to extend it out too much longer if we’re not going to do future extensions of the contract, but I don’t think we’re serving ourselves very well.”
Monday was the fourth straight meeting in which a substantial amount of time was spent on the issue, that being which company would receive the next contract for one- and two-unit residential recycling in Little Falls. The current contract with City Sanitary expires Dec. 31.
The first discussion happened May 3. At that time, the Council had a chance to give direction to city staff regarding any specific criteria it had in mind before the four RFPs were reviewed. Staff was then tasked with considering that feedback when reviewing the RFPs before making a formal recommendation at the May 17 Council meeting.
The Council indicated that many residents within the city had voiced a desire to go to a single-stream pickup method, meaning all recyclable materials can be placed in one container. The current contract is for mixed sort — residents have to separate different materials into their own containers for collection.
City staff came back with a recommendation to accept the RFP and negotiate a contract with Republic Services, a national hauler headquartered in Phoenix. However, between the two meetings, local haulers City Sanitary and Bob LeMieur Roll-offs, Refuse and Recycling reached out to members of the Council to state a single-stream might be a viable option for them, even though that information was not included in their RFPs.
At the June 7 meeting, local haulers gave public comment imploring the Council to stick with a local company. They laid out the benefits of keeping the contract in town. They also said new possibilities were on the horizon for a cheaper single-stream processing method, as well as a partnership with Employment Enterprises, Inc. (EEI) for glass.
Muddying the waters even more, however, City Attorney Alissa Harrington informed the Council on May 17, that it could only use information contained within the original proposals to make a decision. Therefore, if it wanted to take the new points into consideration, its options were somewhat limited.
She reiterated that point during discussion, Monday. Harrington said the Council’s obligation within the RFP process was to give each respondent an equal opportunity to provide a proposal based on the information requested within the RFP.
“It is difficult to not add in additional information where there is information missing, but to do otherwise puts you in question of whether or not you are providing equal opportunities to the respondents to present a proposal,” Harrington said. “... Yes, there is the ability to negotiate those contracts. However, the decision on which vendor you choose to negotiate with is generally going to be — or needs to be — made on what was presented originally in their proposal. That is where you provided equal opportunity to the respondents to present the proposal.”
Prior to the meeting, she provided the Council with a set of options it had. Those choices ranged from accepting the staff’s proposal to negotiate with Republic, to rejecting all offers and starting over, to allowing each of the four respondents an opportunity to submit additional information they feel would be relevant to their proposal.
The Council went through a lengthy discussion on what could be negotiated with the haulers and what could not, along with fleshing out the various options and merits of them. The main sticking point — based on what was in the RFP — was the idea of going with a national company rather than a local hauler.
“I believe in small business; I really do,” said Council Member Raquel Lundberg. “But you can’t tell Perkins, ‘You can’t come in here because we already have the West Side Cafe.’ You can’t tell Holiday Inn, ‘You can’t come in here because we already have a B&B.’ You have to do the very best for the community, and the community wants single-sort. The RFP asked you, ‘What will you give us and how much will it cost?’ We all had that opportunity to look at that RFP.”
Council Member Leif Hanson said he didn’t like the idea of rejecting all of the proposals. Instead, he made the first motion of the evening to reject the recommendation of the staff and negotiate a contract with Bob LeMieur Roll-off, Refuse and Recycling.
He chose that company because it was a local company and provided the lowest price, though it was for a mixed-sort pick-up option. Hanson said he believed, however, that the way the RFP was worded, there was room to negotiate for single-stream collection.
“If the RFP mentions using the existing bins, now, whether that’s sorted or throw everything in there, I think is a detail of the negotiation,” Hanson said. “As in, I don’t read this in believing that the proposal is to sort, as such we’re not locked into it. But that’s my interpretation.”
The motion failed to get enough votes, however, finishing in a 4-4 tie. It had the most Council members in favor of any of the three motions brought forward, but needed a majority to pass. Hanson, Mayor Greg Zylka, Board President Brad Hircock and Council Member Wayne Liljegren voted in favor of the motion, with Council Members Lundberg, Jerry Knafla, James Storlie and Frank Gosiak opposed.
Lundberg followed that with a motion to reject all of the proposals and extend the current contract by six months. That would allow city staff and the Council time to form a new RFP that would include every piece of information they want to consider when making a decision.
In discussion following that motion, Knafla expressed frustration with the way the process was playing out.
“Our decision was supposed to be based on the RFP that we sent out,” he said. “All of the things that needed to be in that RFP were stated in that RFP. We had four people that responded. Two of them read it correctly and handed in an RFP that included everything, including references. Others did not. They did not follow the specifications of that RFP. That was their problem; not ours. They didn’t follow the directions. They didn’t do it the proper way. They didn’t give us all the information that we requested. Because of that, we got all kinds of information thrown at us.”
He said what he was afraid would happen is that a new recommendation would come in after the second set of RFPs and the companies would again try to come forward with an improved proposal, outside of the formal process.
“When does it stop?” he asked.
In making her motion, Lundberg said she still felt Republic’s offer was the best. She eventually rescinded her motion, but Storlie said he was in favor and put it back on the floor.
It failed 6-2, with Storlie and Gosiak casting the only two votes in favor.
“A lot of the information that was given to us was after the RFP was due,” Lundberg said, explaining why she rescinded her motion. “I have a feeling that these new ideas and proposals weren’t even thought of until there was a threat of losing the RFP. Because a different company was going to get that RFP, they scrambled to find some new ways to, maybe, change the way they were doing things and throw a bunch of additional information at us.”
Gosiak said he was in favor of that proposal because most of the feedback he had received from constituents urged him to stick with a local company. He said it was “about 50/50” on how many told him they wanted to go to a single-stream.
He added that some of the new information that had come to light included an economic development opportunity he wanted to explore.
“It’s going to create jobs,” Gosiak said. “We’re always talking about creating jobs around here. We go above and beyond to give certain things to businesses so they come in and develop more jobs and stuff. We have an opportunity to do that here. So, you have to take all these things into consideration. ... As long as we come out of this thing and we make the best decision for the community.”
Finally, after Radermacher said the Council could postpone making a decision until next month, Knafla brought forth the third and final motion of the evening.
He said he was in favor of directing city staff to reach out to all of the respondents to the original RFP and ask for additional information they deem necessary to their proposal. He proposed giving them a deadline of 4:30 p.m., June 28, to get that information back to the city for consideration in the decision-making process.
“I do not like the idea of extending the contract,” Knafla said. “Our contract runs out on Dec. 31. I want a new contract up and ready to go by (Jan. 1, 2022). We extend it, and then we’re going to extend it again, and then we’re going to extend it again, because of all these other kinds of things. If we’re going to move on this, let’s do it.”
His motion also failed, 5-3, with Knafla, Liljegren and Lundberg voting in favor.
The Council will pick up the discussion at its next planning session, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6, at City Hall.
“To me, the best in my mind and heart would be to get great service from someone local,” Zylka said.