MY WORD: Here's the whole story on Shelby garbage plan action

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By Paul Waller

It became apparent to me after reading Lisa King’s article published in The Sentinel-News  (“County trashing pickup plan?” April 19) that she and I were not at the same meeting.  I attended and spoke at the meeting and feel I need to clarify several discrepancies Ms. King reported in her article about the unpopular, proposed, mandatory or government franchised countywide garbage/recycling pickup the county wants to force upon its citizens.

At the meeting, at least a dozen citizens spoke in opposition to mandatory or government- franchised curbside trash pickup for county residents, giving detailed reasons for why they objected tothe proposed plan. Instead of reporting this fact, Ms. King wrote:“Shelby County officials, under fire from three residents at a meeting Wednesday night, appear to have softened their position on whether to implement mandatory/government franchised curbside garbage/recycling pickup for county residents.”

Quite simply, the report about this meeting published by The Sentinel-News appears to have been written with one purpose: to make the magistrates on the legislative committee look like cowards and the named citizens, whose actual comments were unreasonably truncated by the reporter, look like selfish bullies.

It is clear that The Sentinel-News has thrown in with those in government who desire to mandate a trash pickup plan that ignores the needs and desires of many who live in the county. If The Sentinel-News desired to publish an accurate report of last Wednesday’s meeting, the paper would have briefly summarized the essence of the comments made by every person who spoke.

The truth is that Magistrate Tony Carriss, chair of the Fiscal Court Legislative Committee, courteously asked each individual who attended the meeting to tell the committee what he or she felt about the county mandating or franchising garbage pickup.

While The Sentinel-News fails to report the various comments, each person who spoke expressed valid reasons for opposing the pickup plan. Not one person at the meeting expressed support for mandatory/government franchised garbage pickup in the county. The Sentinel-News failed to mention this fact, so the committee’s decision to back off mandatory trash pickup seems curious.

It is highly likely that more citizens would have come to the meeting to oppose the garbage pickup plan if they had been given more notice of the meeting. The Wednesday night meeting was first announced in The Sentinel-News on the Friday before the meeting was held. Magistrate Michael Riggs acknowledged that he had received numerous phone calls and e-mails from citizens opposed to the county’s involvement in residential/business garbage pickup.

While Mr. Riggs repeatedly stated during the meeting that he was not in favor of mandatory pickup but possibly franchising pickup providers, Ms. King failed to mention that fact in her report that attributed the turn around of the committee to the public comments of three people.  A conscientious reporter would have advised readers that one of the three members of the legislative committee stated his opposition to the mandatory pickup plan and reported that he had received numerous calls and E-mails opposing the plan.

Other important comments made at the meeting last Wednesday night were omitted from the report. For example, my wife, Karen, and I both told the committee about the negative experiences Karen’s father, a former Simpsonville resident, had after that city mandated curbside trash pickup that proved to be inferior in quality, high in price, and a source of frustration for Karen’s father.

We told of how Karen’s 86-year-old father could barely manipulate the “specifically designed carts” he was required to use, and of how his garbage was often left because the garbage truck driver deemed the carts to be improperly placed. We said that no matter how hard Karen’s father strained to position his trash cart in the “exact location” specified in the numerous rules given to him by the city, he often failed to hit that mark. We told the committee that, if Karen’s father ever left items, such as a large cardboard box, outside with the trash cart, the garbage company would leave it exactly where it had been set.

When we attempted to talk with both the waste management company and the City of Simpsonville, we were summarily told that Karen’s father had to comply exactly with the rules of cart placement and that any extraneous materials left outside the cart would be left behind.  There was no compassion for the struggles of 86-year-old man; there was only a cold bureaucratic denial of help.

Karen’s father would much rather have shopped for a service provider that would have accepted a trash barrel he easily could have handled and that would have taken the occasional box he left with his trash. Instead, he died having never received any empathy or compassion from his government or his government-mandated trash carrier.

To make matters worse, the City of Simpsonville continually increased the rate Karen’s father paid for garbage pickup. Over a period of five years the rate increased 7.5 percent. (In contrast, the reasonable price my neighbors and I negotiated right outside the Simpsonville city limits – $12.36 per month – has not changed in five years.) Because Karen’s father was on fixed income, the $17.99, including the $3.00 City’s franchise fee, created a financial burden for him.

My father-in-law would not have contracted for trash removal at $17.99 if left alone by the government, because he only generated a bag or two of garbage each month. Because Simpsonville voted to control the trash pickup of all city residents, Karen’s father was prohibited from negotiating a more reasonable price for his individual needs; instead, he was forced to pay the ever-increasing price his government negotiated for him for a service he was often unable to use.

My wife and I showed the committee documentary evidence of the cold, uncaring responses we received from the trash collectors and the city of Simpsonville, but the newspaper didn’t ask to see them, and Ms. King didn’t mention them in her newspaper report.

While we publicly warned the legislative committee that creeping price increases and poor customer service should be expected if a company(s) were to be awarded a sole-source franchise agreement to haul trash by Shelby County, The Sentinel-News did not mention a word of our warning. 

Instead, the paper reported that I went to the meeting “to let the committee know [I] was not in favor of mandatory/government franchised trash pickup because that option would rob [me] of [my] right to select [my] own hauler.” Of all that I said, Ms. King quoted me as saying only, “You’re taking away our choices.”

It may be that The Sentinel-News decided our comments about the experiences Karen’s father had with mandatory curbside pickup were unimportant, but an accurate report of the meeting should have included our comments. It seems more likely that Ms. King failed to mention the story of Karen’s father because it fails to support the newspaper’s agenda of painting my wife and me as irrational protestors and mandatory/government franchised trash pickup as a utopian solution to a problem it perceives.

The reporter tried to paint Jennifer Decker in the same light.  Rather than report the fact that Jennifer told the committee that the public needs to be educated more about the need to recycle, the paper chose only to report her as saying it is not the government’s role to force recycling on its citizens. The Sentinel-News obviously hopes the readers will conclude that Ms. Decker is opposed to recycling. Failing to report her comments about the need for education on the subject completely changes the meaning of what she said.

Moreover, the newspaper failed to report thatMs. Decker told the committee, among other things, that it would be a burden for her family to be forced to load up their trash and drive it to where they would be forced to unload it on a windy two-lane road.  Ms. Decker said that, unlike people in the city, she and others who live in the country have to contend with wild animals turning over their trash containers and strewing the contents. 

Likewise, while The Sentinel-News failed to report his attendance at the meeting or his comments, a gentlemen from Waddy also told the magistrates that he would rather drive to the new convenience center when it is built than to load up his trash, drive it down the lane in front of his house, and unload it on the side of the road to be turned over and strewn by the coyotes that run wild where he lives.

By failing to report accurately the meeting held last Wednesday by the legislative committee of the fiscal court, The Sentinel-News painted a false picture of what took place that night.


Paul Waller lives in Simpsonville.