Friday, June 27, 2014

Republic Freed to Review "Incorrect Fees"

The Standard Times and San Angelo Live reported that Republic Services issued a press release on "corrections to billing statements affecting commercial customers."  The City of San Angelo granted Republic an exclusive franchise for commercial waste hauling under a 2004 contract.  The City failed to review Republic's compliance with city ordinance specifying approved fees and aspects of the contract, including annual submission of complaints to city staff.

This investigation is the City's to conduct.  Republic's sole role should be a willing provider of complete information.  As the city has a 4% liability for any overcharges, it also could want this to disappear.

City Council serves in a governance role and should ensure a third party investigation is conducted.  That investigation should go beyond a review of accounts and amounts to be refunded.  It needs to explore internal documents related to unapproved fees, at Republic and within city staff.  Ricky Dickson supervised trash collection and the landfill in his former role as Operations Director.  He and other key staff should be interviewed, as should Republic Services' leaders.

Once the investigation is complete and made public, Council will be in a position to make an appropriate decision about a long term landfill operation-trash collection contract.  The City has been "hands off" the Republic contract for far too long.  Allowing Republic to conduct the investigation and determine refunds would be yet another abdication of responsibility.

Open and honest leadership isn't easy.  It means seeking an outside opinion when governance isn't in a position to assess as the city itself has a portion of any liability and staff have proven their ineffectiveness.  Any accounting should be forensic in nature.  City Council should engage the investigating firm and directly hear its report, later sharing that with the public.

Republic Services current language is that of minimization.  Their statement frequently cites "incorrect fees."  Other words that could apply, based on investigation results, include unauthorized, unapproved, illegal or fraudulent. 

"we apologize for any inconvenience that this situation may have caused for our commercial customers"

How is long term financial harm an inconvenience?

The issue came to light in April and Republic hadn't stopped charging these fees as of their last billing cycle.  The press release failed to mention the company's current stance on fees not approved by City Council and not in compliance with city ordinances.  Will they continue to be billed or has Republic stopped them?

City Council's allowing Republic to take the lead and investigate itself is a failure of leadership.  Like the Furniture Fiasco it doesn't pass the smell test.  That hapless investigation should not be a model for this grave issue.  The stakes are much higher, $9 million vs. $100,000.  In both cases parties exceeded their legal authority.  A prior council tried to bury the first.  I hope this one does better.

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