County Solid Waste Policy Committee gets a shakeup as entity assumes powerful duties assigned by county commissioners

The Cincinnati Post

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Hamilton County Commissioners Dumas and Driehaus voted to change the role of the Solid Waste Policy Committee.The Cincinnati Post, 2021

The Hamilton County Solid Waste Policy Committee assumes its newfound duties assigned by the county commissioners to review applications to construct, expand, modify, or operate any solid waste facility in the county. What, until December 16th, was reserved exclusively to the Ohio EPA, is now subject to commissioner approval. In the new rules passed last month, those desiring to operate a facility must apply for approval. The first step in that process requires the review and recommendation of the Policy Committee to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

This makes an otherwise innocuous committee that most have never heard of, suddenly, central to the billion-dollar solid waste industry operating in the county - and very powerful. Until last month when the commissioners undertook the authority afforded to them in 1989 via ORC Chapter 3734, the Policy Committee had to accept whatever hand they were dealt by the Ohio EPA, an entity that rarely denied facility owners' permits sought.

The new power has had a shakeup of the Solid Waste Policy Committee. It has lost 3 of 8 committee members in the last month under peculiar circumstances. Rumpke resigned its "ex officio" seat when Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc, (C.A.R.E.) sent them legal notice that their appointment was contrary to law. The city representative, Sue Magness, was removed by former Mayor John Cranley, who accepted a $25K donation to his campaign for governor from Rumpke, after she voted to support rules to regulate the solid waste industry. (It is expected that the new mayor will reinstate her to the post.) And, "Raj" Rajagopal, the township representative on the committee, forfeits his seat after he failed to be re-elected amid Rumpke flooding the trustees' race with $16K in campaign donations to his opponents.

According to an email sent on December 6th, 2021, by Michelle Balz, Solid Waste Manager for Hamilton County, Matt Wahlert, a Colerain Township Trustee who received $7.5K in campaign donations from Rumpke, will be named to the Solid Waste Policy Committee in January.

However, that statement may be both premature and in violation of Ohio law.

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Email sent to the Policy Committee members, December 6th 2021, informing them that Wahlert will be appointed.The Cincinnati Post, 2022

For the last 2 decades, it has been assumed by Balz, the Policy Committee and the township that Colerain Township gets to name a person to the Policy Committee because it is the largest township in the county. It, also, hosts the only landfill in the county. Considering Colerain Township has first-hand knowledge of the impacts of landfills, it made sense to have them name a person to represent all the townships in the county. However, circumstances have changed and the law requires a different process:

ORC 3734.54 (B)(3) A member representing the townships within the county chosen by a majority of the boards of township trustees within the county

Given Balz's failure to provide, or in the absence of any documentation otherwise, the township trustees are to vote on who represents them. It is not an authority vested in Colerain Township. In addition, the large sums donated from Rumpke to each trustee in the township: Dan Unger (R) ($8K), Matt Wahlert (R) ($7.5K), and Cathy Ulrich (R) ($8K), as well as, the private settlement agreement that pumps millions into the township's coffers above and beyond those payments statutorily required, change the circumstances of this previous arrangement.

While the Ohio Ethics Commission provided reference to a legal opinion on December 28th in response to the circumstances relative to the trustees, which concludes that "normal" donations without more, such as proof of a quid pro quo, are not a conflict of interest. The issue of a body politic having its own conflict (pertaining to the settlement agreement) has been "referred ... to our investigative team". The Cincinnati Post is awaiting their opinion.

It is noteworthy that Health Commissioner, Greg Kesterman, a statutory member of the Policy Committee, abstained from voting on the rules matter because his office has a contract with the Ohio EPA that he felt presented a conflict of interest for his department.

Sycamore Township Trustee and president of the County Township Association, Tom Wiedman, is only interested in getting this appointment right and doing it in a "fair and democratic" manner. After reviewing the statute, he indicated he will be soliciting the nomination of persons interested in serving on this committee from the boards of trustees across the county for the first time in over 20 years. He will then request that each board vote for their preferred representative. Whichever candidate receives a simple majority of votes will serve the townships on the Policy Committee during a period of significant transition and historical changes that include giving a voice to the residents and their communities.

The only thing left to see is if the township trustees will select a representative who represents Rumpke or the best interests of the township's residents.

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