Solid waste contract under scope again in RGC

A contentious agreement between Rio Grande City and a garbage contractor is back on the agenda for next week after a court order prevented the city from taking action on it this week.

The city commissioners planned to take action on a contract with Grande Garbage, a local solid waste company, during a city commission meeting Wednesday; however, just hours before the meeting, a judge granted a temporary restraining order against the city that kept them from doing so.

District Judge Noe Gonzalez, of the 370th District Court, granted a temporary restraining order filed by Alberto Escobedo, a Rio Grande City businessman who is also running for the city commission.

In his amended application for the TRO, filed May 7, Escobedo argued the language on the agenda was not specific enough and that there wasn’t an opportunity for him to speak publicly about the issue during the meeting.

On Thursday, though, Gonzalez dissolved the TRO after issues of the agenda for the future meeting were apparently resolved.

“Today, the City of Rio Grande City argued before the court describing how the agenda notice for the City Commission’s May 27, 2020 Meeting met the requirements of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” the city wrote in a statement.

“The City of Rio Grande City has taken additional steps to make sure that all residents and visitors are able to participate in the virtual meetings, just as they were before the Coronavirus,” the city added.

“This pandemic has caused us to adapt quickly to new rules and directives coming from the Texas Governor and Attorney General, along with our County Judge. In all things, the City of Rio Grande City remains committed to service the public in a responsible and transparent way.”

Attorney Martie Garcia Vela, who represented Escobedo in the case, said Thursday that they had indicated they would continue to pursue legal action against the city if it moved forward with approving a contract with Grande Garbage.

Grande Garbage is already the city’s current solid waste contractor but that relationship has drawn criticism in the past as it was the focus of an approximately three-year long lawsuit.

BFI Allied Waste Services sued the city in October 2015, claiming the city had breached its contract when it terminated the company a month prior.

Grande Garbage, which the city hired after they terminated Allied Waste, was later added as a defendant in the lawsuit.

During preliminary court proceedings, a judge granted Allied Waste’s motion for a temporary injunction that prevented the city from contracting any other company for trash collection.

As a result, the city created its own sanitation department and began collecting trash with equipment it lease-purchased from the owner of Grande Garbage for $10.

Then, in September 2018, Allied Waste’s original contract with the city expired, bringing an end to the injunction. At that point, the city decided to settle with Allied Waste for $325,000.

That freed up Rio Grande City to contract with Grande Garbage again to finish out the company’s five-year contract which had been interrupted because of the lawsuit. That contract is set to expire this year.

Of the continuing legal action against the city, Garcia Vela said they’ve offered to settle with the city if it agrees to not raise property taxes, agrees that the contract with Grande Garbage would not be for longer than one year, agrees to make the terms of the agreement public, and if the city agrees to raise franchise taxes so that franchises would pay more to cover costs for what they feel is “an unnecessary contract.”

“We feel that’s an equalizing term because it will bring more revenue to the city,” Garcia Vela said of that settlement term.

Additionally, they want the city to conduct a cost analysis to see how much it would cost to continue contracting with Grande Garbage versus how much it would cost for the city to provide those services themselves.

Of the dissolution of the TRO by the court, Garcia Vela added, “we’re happy that the city is complying with the notice requirements.”