More Than Organized Garbage Controversy is on the Ballot in St. Paul

Has St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter overplayed his hand? That’s the unspoken question behind Pioneer Press columnist Joe Soucheray’s breakdown of Carter’s manipulation of residents facing a referendum on the mayor’s much maligned pet project–organized garbage collection.

Now what do we do? The state’s highest court has ruled that St. Paul’s contract with a consortium of trash haulers must be honored. The mayor, Melvin Carter, has arrogantly pointed out that we can go ahead and vote yes on the Nov. 5 ballot referendum or vote no, but all we are really voting on is how this arrangement will be paid for.

In other words, despite the contract’s flaws, chief among them that it was agreed to by the city and the haulers without first putting it to the voters, we get to pretend in the voting booth that we are actually having a say in this. It doesn’t feel like it.

Now that residents will finally get to vote on November 5, Carter wants opponents of organized hauling to believe they have everything to lose, regardless of the outcome.

Carter’s arrogance on this matter was particularly egregious when, announcing the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, he said he has been talking to residents on both sides of the issue. He said he encourages voters to educate themselves on the impacts of a yes vote and a no vote and to participate in the public process.

Participate in the public process? That was taken from us from the get go. There was no public process, and now the mayor is still playing that threat card he has been carrying around in his pocket. Vote yes to keep the current system in place, we get a bill. Or vote no and the system still stays in place, only it will be paid for by the city after collecting millions of dollars through an increase in our property taxes.

But there’s clearly more uncertainty over the system’s future if residents vote to reject organized collection, rather than vote to approve it. And that might be enough to motivate many residents.

Our future no doubt includes endless lawsuits. Contract law does take into account the interests of third parties. That would be us. At the very least, a no vote, if I am interpreting this correctly, would mean the ordinance would have to be revisited. Or maybe not. The haulers have pointed out that they have no financial incentive go back to the bargaining table.

For now Carter appears to be in the driver’s seat. But the longer the controversy goes on, the less it may become about garbage and the more it becomes about the arrogance and cynicism of government–even in St. Paul.

 Mindful elected leaders might have sprung into action almost five months ago to make this right with the citizens. They didn’t lift a finger. Either they knew they would prevail or believed that they should because they rule from the salon and they know what’s best.

That’s not governing. That’s a smug response to the people who pay their bills.