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Will Bloomington Ever Allow Residents to Vote on Trash Plan?

They’ve garnered hundreds more signatures on their petition campaigns than five-term Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead received in votes last November.

But it remains to be seen whether the third and latest petition from the citizens group Hands Off Our Cans will be the charm or third strike in a year-long battle with City Hall to let residents vote on who should collect their garbage.

Until now, residents of Minnesota’s fifth largest city have been able to select from seven garbage haulers. But the Bloomington City Council has moved to replace the system for “organized collection.”

The issue at stake—freedom of trash—may strike some as less than inspirational, but for supporters it gets to the heart of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“The city has really worked against the people as far as including them in the decision and essentially not listening to their voice in the matter,” said Joel Jennissen, a day trader and Hands Off Our Cans spokesman. “So we’re still using the tools we have at hand to make sure we have the ability to be heard.”

The watchdog group recently turned in the 285 page petition to the Bloomington city clerk with 2,500 signatures, more than enough to meet the threshold for putting an amendment to the city charter on the ballot this fall.

The petition reads: “Unless first approved by a majority of the voters in a state general election, the City shall not replace the competitive market in solid waste collection with a system in which solid waste services are provided by government-chosen collectors or in government-designated districts.”Trash

The petitions still need to be validated by the city clerk before being forwarded to the city council for a public hearing.

“We need to research if this proposed language is constitutional or if there are examples of such language being proposed elsewhere in Minnesota charter cities,” Bloomington City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said in an emailed statement.

Bloomington officials have signaled the petition drive will receive as vigorous scrutiny as two previous attempts, which were short-circuited. In those instances, City Attorney Sandra Johnson blocked citizen input by ruling state statute preempted an initiative petition and finding flaws with a referendum petition.

Hands Off Our Cans took the city to court to get their right to petition recognized by the city.  Judge James Moore affirmed their right to be involved in the process but suggested a different form of petition—an amendment to the city charter.

“What’s been going on here is a pattern of thwarting the people’s right to be heard,” said Bill Reichert, a member of Hands Off Our Cans. “Twice now the city attorney has used the power of her office to block citizen involvement.”

Throughout the controversy, the Twin Cities suburb has continued working toward implementing organized collection looking to a fall 2016 start-up.

Haulers will be prohibited from providing service except in city-designated zones and required to charge uniform rates. Supporters claim the new system will reduce traffic, air pollution, consumer costs and road maintenance. Opponents argue it takes away their freedom of choice and undermines free enterprise.

Since 2013, a dozen Minnesota cities have rejected organized collection. The solid waste industry considers Bloomington a bellwether for other communities.

“Many more cities have decided against organized collection than have actually moved forward with it,” said Mike Moroz, CEO of Walters Recycling and Refuse. “The citizens have gotten involved and gone to city hall and talked to their elected officials and said, ’We don’t want this, stay out of our business, let us make our own choices.’”

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