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Flint, MI–The Flint City Council approved a contract with a new waste collection service provider, but for multiple council members, it was a “sad day.”
During a special city council meeting on Sept. 7, the council voted 5-4 to enter into a three-year contract with Priority Waste LLC. But that vote came without first holding an investigative hearing into a previous bid process, which was the council’s original plan.
The new contract is for waste collection services through Sept. 30, 2024, in an amount not to exceed $19,726,747.20. According to the proposal document, Priority Waste “was the lowest responsible bidder from the three bids received for said services that can meet the time restraints.”
But in previous meetings some council members questioned moving forward with the city administration’s recommendation of Priority Waste, in part because they wanted to first investigate an earlier bid process that was done incorrectly.
In June, the council learned that the bid process for trash collection contracts in February and March was done incorrectly according to the city’s charter. Normally, in accordance with the charter, bids would be received, opened publicly, and read off in a public setting.
Administration officials told the council that the bid process occurred in a private room with only the internal purchasing staff present. Due to this error, the city had to enter into a contract extension for the current provider, Republic Services, to have time to redo the bid process and not leave the city without trash collection.
During a meeting on Aug. 25, the council voted 5-4 to postpone voting on the administration’s choice for the new waste collection service provider until after holding an investigative hearing into the first bid process.
Councilman Herbert Winfrey was the deciding vote at that meeting and said that although he was confident in the administration’s decision, he would still like to wait and see what the investigative hearing holds.
“If there are some colleagues that feel like something wasn’t done, and they have information that there was some possibility of something different, I want to hear it. I want to know it,” Winfrey said at that meeting. “I said early on…I don’t think that the team did anything wrong, and I’m so confident in that, I’m willing to have an investigative hearing.”
The hearing was scheduled for Sept. 7, before the special meeting to vote on the new contract, but the subpoenaed officials were not in attendance.
Attorney Melvin McWilliams, who is representing some of the subpoenaed individuals, said that he would not bring them before the council until rules and procedures for the hearing were agreed upon.
“I came to the meeting to find out exactly what this council’s going to do, and we have advised the individuals that we are counseling on this to not appear until there are rules in place,” McWilliams said.
The council ended up voting to approve rules and procedures laid out by their attorney, F. Jack Belzer. Those rules include keeping the topic of the hearing specific, setting a specific timeline, limiting the number of witnesses and the amount of time to speak to each witness, and asking “fact-specific” questions with no interruptions.
After approving the rules, the council voted to hold the investigative hearing Thursday, Sept. 9, at 4 p.m. in person at the city council’s chambers.
With a new investigative hearing date, some council members tried to move the vote on the new contract until after the hearing once again, but they failed. With a vote of 5-4, the council approved the new contract.
Winfrey was the deciding vote again, but this time it was to approve the contract without first holding the investigative hearing.
Councilman Eric Mays said he was “appalled” by his decision and accused Winfrey of going back on his word, but Winfrey argued that his stance hasn’t changed.
While Winfrey said he still wanted to hold an investigative hearing, he didn’t believe the hearing would allow the council to vote for another bidder not chosen by the administration.
“As far as them submitting a bid to us… they’ve done that. Now it’s our job to either vote it up or down,” Winfrey said. “If we feel that something’s happened that was done wrong, we have the power and the responsibility of an investigative hearing. That’s what I wanted to get, but I never thought that the investigative hearing was tied to, in my mind, who gets the contract.”
Earlier in the meeting, Attorney Belzer told the council that while they can evaluate all the bidders before them, they can only vote on one of them– the one that is chosen by the administration.
Mays said the council might as well cancel the investigative hearing and that at this point it would be “futile” and a “moot issue.”
Councilwoman Eva Worthing said his comments made it “glaringly obvious” that Mays only wanted to hold an investigative hearing to “bid-steer” and not to uncover “wrongdoing.”
Councilwoman Monica Galloway said it was a “sad day” for the residents of Flint but that she still wanted to have the investigative hearing.
“I’m not going to not have the investigative hearing because, if nothing else, I want this community to see the things that have been done that have been inappropriate… I’m not giving up on that,” Galloway said. “I believe that there are things that are going to be uncovered.”
Councilman Allan Griggs said it was a “sad day” for residents too, but because of “this waste of city time and money on this topic.”
Councilman Mays said this was a “bad day.”
“I’m very disappointed,” Mays said. “I don’t know which men or women to believe in life. I never thought I’d get sworn in on the council, operate with a council, and then get double- and triple-crossed over and over again with a council.”