NORWALK, Conn. – Suspicions over the pre-ordained nature of a Norwalk garbage collecting contract erupted into hostilities Tuesday night, as one common council member used the phrase "pay to play," prompting other council members to say they felt insulted.
The council's public works committee voted to recommend that the full council authorize Mayor Richard Moccia to execute a 10-year contract with City Carting for city-wide municipal waste collection, otherwise known as privatizing or outsourcing the city's garbage collection.
The committee also recommended that City Carting's contract for recycling be extended to June 30, 2023, and amended to include "single-stream recycling" next year. City Carting's contract regarding the transfer station will also be lengthened to June 30, 2023.
"A reasonable person could conclude that City Carting is going to have a monopoly," Council member David Watts said. "That to me is very scary, to have one company with that much control and influence over the city."
City Carting competed with Finocchio Brothers for the contract and was selected by a panel that included both a Republican and a Democratic Common Council member. Members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2405 were invited to submit a bid but declined.
Common Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-District D), a member of the panel, said that he had been a union member for 25 years and would have favored "the incumbents" and was sad that Local 2405 did not present a bid.
City Carting got the nod because it offered to provide single-stream recycling, according to Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord, another member of the panel. Both Finnochio and City Carting submitted value-added proposals during the negotiating process.
Milton Giddeons, president of Local 2405, said the length of the contract was proof of malfeasance. "We don't even get a 10-year contract so there's some funny business going on," he said.
But Management and Budget Director Bob Barron said the length of the contract justifies City Carting's investment in it, as the company must buy expensive trucks. He also said that the contract would prevent City Carting from raising prices.
Alvord said the market for recyclables is volatile and the contract locks prices in, protecting the city. "Glass is almost impossible to sell (now), yet we're getting paid for it," he said.
He also said the city has the right to reopen the contract and renegotiate "if things happen in the industry."
Diane Lauricella, an environmental consultant, spoke and asked the committee to reconsider. "Separate these three contracts," she said. "They should not be rolled together."
The "stench" coming from City Carting's Meadow Street facility was on the mind of Margaret Farnsworth, a Harbor View resident. "Odor is not a strong enough word," she said, adding that it is "overwhelming."
Council member David McCarthy (R-District E), chairperson of the committee, disputed Farnsworth’s claim. He said he had gone and done his own smell test, discovering that it was bad in the parking lot, but across the street it was unnoticeable. Alvord said the city received its first complaint of the year about the smell Tuesday.
Watts, a vocal opponent of outsourcing, said the process to choose City Carting "didn't pass the smell test." He said that in the process of campaigning, he and other council members found that the public is against outsourcing and thought the selection of City Carting was a done deal.
Although a Democrat was on the panel, the Democratic caucus was not, he said. He wondered why McCarthy chose Kimmel, who does not caucus with the Democrats, and why McCarthy didn't make the deliberations more public.
McCarthy said he had first offered the seat on the panel to John Igneri (D-District E), who declined – this was confirmed by Igneri. McCarthy said that council members do not typically take part in the negotiation of a city contract.
McCarthy, Igneri, Kimmel and Council member Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said they were offended by Watts' use of the term "pay to play," as he was saying they were taking bribes or kickbacks.
"It appears to me that one company has a monopoly and I'm just hoping we don't pass this because there's some real concerns out there," Watts said. "I'm not attacking anybody's character when I use the words pay to play. I'm not accusing you guys. I'm just saying the public has some concerns with City Carting."