Cincinnati, OH

Obstruction: What they didn't want you to see as the Rules Subcommittee tries to propose first rule

The Cincinnati Post

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The Hamilton County Rules Subcommittee chair and legal counsel attempt to block release of proposed ruleThe Cincinnati Post

Tony DiPuccio, chair of the Solid Waste, Rules Subcommittee and appointed counsel, Nee Fong Chin, from the county prosecutor's office, were successful at preventing any discussion of a proposed rule to regulate the solid waste (garbage) industry in Hamilton County, Ohio, this week. Both wanted to keep the proposed rule secret. They lost that battle, in the end, but succeeded in quashing any discussion or formal actions to move the rule to the next step for adoption.

The Subcommittee consists of just 3 members: Robert Gedert, Sue Mangess, and Tony DiPuccio. Nee Fong Chin serves as legal counsel to the subcommittee, despite acknowledging that she is unqualified to serve as attorney on the formulation of rules after 7 months of delays. Back in September the primary Policy Committee had passed a resolution to hire expert legal counsel experienced in this area of law. Two months later, and expert counsel still had not been hired by the Solid Waste Manager, Michelle Balz. Since June, this Policy Committee has been trying to get a straight answer on the breadth and scope of the county's authority in making rules.

It was still in the works at this meeting, while lots of work lay in wait causing months of delay.

Gedert sought to introduce and discuss a new rule proposed for recommendation to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners within the coming weeks. The rule, derived from neighboring Warren County's Solid Waste Plan, would require any solid waste facility or operator in the county district to acquire approval from the county commissioners before conducting business. Most of the counties surrounding Hamilton County have had some kind of rules that limit the siting of landfills for decades.

As DiPuccio pointed out, "I don't think Warren County even has a landfill."

He is correct. They all have rules. Hamilton County does not. That's why all the counties in the region dump their trash on Hamilton County to deal with. This would be a first in Hamilton County history despite it being home to one of the largest, privately-owned landfills in the country.

The county commissioners took an interest in pursuing rules after being inundated with calls and emails from residents, petition drives, and frustrated nonprofit organizations. The subcommittee was charged with determining the scope of authority to promulgate rules and to make rule recommendations to the commissioners.

However, the pushback has been strong. Clearly, obstructive.

After announcing and referencing the proposed rule to the subcommittee, Gedert asked,

I"d like to introduce - answer, address - certain issues that have been brought up to us, up to this date...  I'd like to bring forward a draft set of rules... as a first reading...

Nee Fong Chin interrupted him, offering a rare and unsolicited opinion,

[S]omeone else in my office is handling it... maybe go ahead and accept the document, but no discussions today and let outside counsel review it and... outside counsel should be able to attend the next meeting, then, we can have discussions.  I think right now having discussions on something that hasn't been vetted by outside counsel would not be moving forward.   

Chin's interjection into an open public meeting in which a member wishes to discuss a proposed rule was unprecedented. We can find no legitimate reason for legal counsel to usurp the intent of a member to deliberate an issue, publicly, especially "as a first reading," not being brought for a vote. Chin wouldn't even permit Gedert to give an overview of the proposed rule.

Gedert pushed forward, respectfully, " I, I can accept, limited - very, very limited - discussion. I won't walk through the document (as was his intention) ..."

Chin interrupted Gedert, again, and bullied her position to prevent him from introducing the proposed rule,

No, no. I think that if you want to submit the document today - to TonyTony can hand it off to outside counsel, once Michelle and the Solid Waste District signs off on it, it'll be handed off to outside counsel, - have them review it - and, hopefully, come more prepared for discussion for our next meeting.

Gedert acquiesced to the attorney, who then stated, "Please be aware, that, um, this document is submitted, then is it also to be submitted throughout the county also?"

Gedert replies, "Yes. I'm sure."

DiPuccio objected, "No, I, I - my feeling is this stays with the subcommittee for now." Then he reiterates Chin's misplaced position with the unfounded claim that they can't release any document that hasn't been vetted by legal counsel and that this would cause public confusion.

At this point, it appeared that the Gedert was being overrun by his own legal counsel and DiPuccio. The audience was very tense. One member known to be a retired attorney, stood up, interrupting them all, and insisted assertively, "No, this is public record. They've exchanged it already --- and I want a copy."

After a brief silence, Chin left the room to get a legal opinion. She returned and related that the document was, in fact, a public record and merely needed to be labeled a "draft." (Everyone else already knew this.)

There would be no discussions, much less a motion to recommend to the commissioners as was the intention of a majority on the subcommittee, but it would be a public document.

Despite the obstruction, Gedert made an effort to facilitate the rule being voted upon and to get the proposed rule before the Policy Committee. He asked, "I propose that we hold another subcommittee meeting shortly after getting the legal opinion" and requested that the policy committee be updated on the proposal of rules, "they might be interested in any proposed rules... so, we'll need to know what we can say about (the proposed rules)."

Again, DiPuccio slammed that door shut, "I don't know that we'll have..."

Here is the link to the important parts of the newest proposed rules that the opposition doesn't want you to see.

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Part of the newest proposed rule for the solid waste industryThe Cincinnati Post

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