Deck stacked against public representatives on landfill rules subcommittee, preserving 20-year status quo

The Cincinnati Post
Hamilton County is set to become the "Trash Capital" of the country if expansion is approved.Hamilton County Public Health

The deck has been stacked against citizens in favor of landfill operators for over 2 decades in Hamilton County. This week, another sleight of hand in dealing the cards was revealed. The Solid Waste division of the Environmental Services department loaded the newly established Rules Subcommittee, formed the week prior under public pressure, with governmental employees and refused to let other players to be dealt into the game. The administration proposed their appointment of subcommittee members: 2 employees from the health department, 2 employees from the engineer’s office, and 3 from the Solid Waste Policy Committee (SWPC) including: the city representative (and only woman on the subcommittee), a former solid waste manager and a current large volume generator and former landfill operator specifically requested by Larry Riddle, on behalf of Rumpke. There is no representation of the average citizen impacted by landfills, environmental interests, nonprofits, or minorities.

Michelle Balz, the Solid Waste Manager sent the following email to members of the Solid Waste Policy Committee, in part, detailing the tentative subcommittee members:

Here is the list of Policy Committee members who will serve on the subcommittee … If you have any questions about or concerns with this list, please let me know by Friday, 9/24 at 12 p.m. I intend to reach out to the subcommittee group Friday afternoon to schedule the first meeting for early to mid-October.

Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc, (C.A.R.E.) obtained the email through a public record request and promptly distributed it to government officials, nonprofits, and the broader community, questioning, “Why in the world would they appoint 4 employees from 2 different departments and no one to represent the people?”

Frustrated by the administration’s refusal to appoint a single advocacy voice to the subcommittee and, in what feels like, a pattern of obstruction on the issue, a formal complaint has been made to the administration. The complaint alleges that records were intentionally withheld, presentations delayed, and the improper, continuing presence of a Rumpke representative on the committee, etc. were done for the purpose of maintaining the 20-year status quo that fails to protect citizens, communities, and the environment through rulemaking and commissioner oversight.

If the Solid Waste Manager and Environmental Services Director thought C.A.R.E. and thousands of others were going to throw in their cards on the table and fold - they got it wrong. Doctors, lawyers, city council and candidates, advocates, and regular citizens went all-in and bombarded the director’s office with emails with less than 12 hours’ notice, objecting to the composition of the subcommittee and many directly asking for the appointment of C.A.R.E. to the subcommittee.

One of the strongest letters came from city council candidate and attorney, Kurt Grossman, who helped identify the legal precedent that proved that C.A.R.E.’s assertions about the authority and civic duty for the Solid Waste Policy Committee and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners to enact rules and jurisdiction over the siting of landfills. He wrote:

I am writing as a resident, taxpayer, and voter in Cincinnati, and as a Candidate for Cincinnati City Council, to object to the proposed make-up of the subcommittee that has been formulated to develop rules related to the oversight and control of operations designed to "construct, expand, modify, and operate" landfills in Hamilton County. While I applaud the Solid Waste District for finally, after too many years of inaction, beginning the process of managing these issues, it seems painfully obvious that the needs and concerns of the community will be lost in the process. There is no advocate for the community, there is no advocate for environmental concerns, and there is not even an elected official. Instead, we have a panel of insiders. Some insiders are important, because they bring important expertise to the table. But without advocacy involvement, there can be no steps taken to hear directly from those who are impacted by landfills what their concerns are nor how to address them to the satisfaction of the "people" who have to live it every day. That is not a healthy way to proceed. I urge you to reconsider and appoint one or more citizen and environmental advocates to this subcommittee. Otherwise, anything the subcommittee comes up with will be suspect, at minimum, and possibly even subject to legal challenge. Certainly, there will be no confidence that the rules will be designed to protect the community as opposed to protect vested interests at the expense of the community.

Because this is an intra-governmental body with representation from city and township, as well as, the county, the issue is on the radar of a few other city council campaigns: Michelle Dillingham, Jaime Castle, LaKeisha Cook and Nick Jaben. When C.A.R.E. presented the concerns before the Board of Commissioners including that there are no minorities on either the SWPC or the new subcommittee despite there being a diversity initiative by the board to be more representative of the broader community, Commissioner Dumas promised to send her own email.

The same sentiments were expressed by a local environmental nonprofit:

The absence of a representative from the general public representing the interest of those affected by the landfills or a representative from environmental interests affected by the landfills, while at the same time including representation from the landfill industry, will surely raise questions about the fairness and effectiveness of whatever rules are ultimately recommended by the Rules Committee. I urge that you include at least one such representative on the committee.

Community members were more explicit. They sought specific representation on the subcommittee by Carrie Davis who discovered the county was not exercising its full authority under law. From a retired librarian and resident of Colerain:

I would like to see Ms. Carrie Davis be appointed to this subcommittee. She has been very active in initiating action and representing the interests of the community regarding the impact of the Rumpke landfill in the county, and I feel she would best speak for my concerns and for those of many in this area.”

Other residents wrote, “Carrie Davis has already done an enormous amount of work on this issue and I feel her expertise would be advantageous,” and another wrote, “I am in favor and strongly encourage the appointment of Carrie Davis … if proper representation is not included, nothing will change.”

C.A.R.E., who has led the charge for reform, made calls to the Environmental Services Director after noon, on Friday, to determine if the administration would heed the pleas from the diverse group of persons and entities protesting the composition of the subcommittee. Those calls went unanswered.

If you would like to weigh in on this issue, please email or the Hamilton County Commissioner, chair of the SWPC,

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