County Commissioner Dumas refuses to approve Solid Waste Committee nominee until residents' concerns heard

The Cincinnati Post
Commissioner Dumas backs residents against landfill industry influenceThe Cincinnati Post, 2021

But for, the tenacity of Commissioner Stephanie Dumas - with an assist from Commissioner Reece - Driehaus would have successfully planted a Rumpke compliance contractor on the Solid Waste Policy Committee 2 weeks ago. Dumas insisted the nomination be tabled so she could consider letters written by several individuals and nonprofit organizations before voting on the issue.

This week, the commissioners will give an up or down vote, but not until Dumas hears from residents.

At the forefront of the issue is the director of Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc, (C.A.R.E.).
C.A.R.E. informed the Board of County Commissioners at their June 16th meeting that Driehaus is attempting to appoint a person with a known and pervasive conflict of interest to the Solid Waste Policy Committee. C.A.R.E. asserts that, according to documents from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office presented to the board, that the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office is suborning the commissioners’ violation of law related to this appointment, conflicts of interest, and the Open Meetings and the Public Records Acts. C.A.R.E. claims in their documents that Driehaus’ nominee to the committee is not a representative of “waste generators” as required by statute and has an overwhelming personal, pecuniary interest in the work of the committee.

After Dumas and Reece voted to delay the vote, C.A.R.E. said that Dumas “refused to pick up the trash contractor Driehaus is dumping on the solid waste committee" by appointing an employee of Rumpke to the committee. C.A.R.E. has threatened legal action if the nomination goes forward.

At the meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and over the objections of Driehaus, Dumas insisted that “to respect the people who sent the letters,” the motion brought by Commissioner Denise Driehaus to appoint Tony DiPuccio to the Solid Waste Policy Committee be tabled.

Driehaus, the Environmental Services Director Brad Johnson, and the County Assistant Prosecutor, Michael Friedman, all denied that DiPuccio had a conflict of interest and pushed the motion to appoint DiPuccio expeditiously to the Solid Waste Policy Committee despite an outpouring of objections from numerous advocacy groups within the county. DiPuccio sought re-appointment to the Solid Waste Policy Committee as a representative of “institutional, commercial, and industrial generators” of garbage. Policy Committee members asserted that DiPuccio did not meet the required criteria as a “generator” of garbage and that his realm of experience was related to his work representing “landfill operators” who dispose of trash, not “generators” of garbage.

Michael Friedman, Assistant County Prosecutor, representing the commissioners, stated on the record,

I can also say that I spoke with the prosecutor who advises me during the meetings and I just texted, and she confirmed that she saw no conflict there.” (See at 46:45 here. )

However, at a meeting of the Solid Waste Policy Committee on May 13th, on video here, (at 1:00:00), Greg Kesterman, Hamilton County Health Commissioner, brought to the committee’s attention that “one item that did come up … was that Tony (DiPuccio) mentioned that he does do some work with Rumpke on an environmental compliance perspective.”

Kesterman asked Nee Fong Chin, Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor,

“Is there any concerns from a conflict of interest or anything like that? “

Chin responded,

I would say, yes, .... if Tony is working on anything involving Rumpke …(unintelligible) working with anything from Rumpke, I would ask you (DiPuccio) to abstain from discussions and to abstain from voting, and that way there is no conflict.”

Sue Magness, the representative for the City of Cincinnati on the Solid Waste Committee, rebutted, referring to the other candidate for the position on the committee and reiterating the issue of conflicts of interest and the statutory requirement to represent “generators” of garbage,

She actually works for a company (the Cincinnati Zoo) that generates waste rather than a consultant, engineer... So I think her experience does lend her to this position, better than Tony … But especially now that he is working with Rumpke, I think that since we have a well-qualified alternative who is an institutional generator, that I would recommend Mallory and would like the committee - ”

Chin interrupts Magness,

“Just a general question, Tony are you working with Rumpke right now or your company?”

DiPuccio admits,

“Yes. We work with them on compliance issues.”

For the last year, DiPuccio has never disclosed that he works for Rumpke in any capacity whatsoever, despite deliberating, voting, and obstructing the progress of the Solid Waste Policy Committee to propose rules to regulate his client. Such issues had a direct and immediate impact on his employer, Rumpke. Committee members are required under Ohio law ORC 102.03 - .04, to disclose any potential conflicts of interest they may have involving “close business associates.” Rumpke is a “close business associate” of DiPuccio and he has a direct “pecuniary interest” (financial) in the work of the committee across all issues and matters with few exceptions.

Records obtained indicate that DiPuccio wrote an article about his work with Rumpke as far back as 2010. DiPuccio is a “employee-owner” of the company contracted by Rumpke, so any work the company performs, benefits DiPuccio.

Particularly concerning is that DiPuccio’s company advertises, (para 5)

SCS professionals are available as technical experts and have been admitted as expert witnesses and supported legal counsel in a variety of environmental and regulatory litigation matters."

Rumpke is currently suing the county because they passed rules to regulate the solid waste industry for the first time in county history in December 2021, despite DiPuccio and Chin obstructing the progress of the Solid Waste Policy Committee and the Rules Subcommittee. It is unethical for attorneys to advise the commissioners to put a possible witness against them on the very committee that proposed the action contested.

Up until November, Rumpke also sat on the committee in violation of Ohio law. They only resigned when a lawsuit was threatened by Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc.

Chin, interrupted Magness and the work of the committee meeting again, soliciting a defense of DiPuccio, “But again, (addressing DiPuccio) you heard what I said about abstaining and voting?”

DiPuccio, “Yes.”

Apparently, Driehaus and Friedman didn’t hear that so well. Both denied any conflict of interest existed during the commissioners’ meeting.

During the committee meeting, Sue Magness tried to invite other committee members to weigh in. Kesterman reminded the committee that only “the 4 statutory” members could vote on the matter: himself, as Health Commissioner, Commissioner Driehaus representing the President of the Board of Commissioners, Stephanie Summerow-Dumas, Sue Magness for the city, and Matt Wahlert, the Colerain Trustee who received $7.5K in campaign contributions from Rumpke.

Another member of the solid waste committee, Karen Hurley, speaking as the Public Interest member, usurped the effort to stymy discussion by non-voting members of the committee, saying,

I would just like to say, I was kind of excited to hear that this person (the candidate from the Zoo) was a waste generator. I really didn’t understand what the position requirements were when this, sorta, came up. And, I’m not sure what waste type Tony was generating (laughter) but, I knew he was at least one step removed from that, creating waste. … That’s kind of an exciting thing (referring to the other nominee. To have a person who is clearly qualified for the position … Having someone from the Zoo) I would think that would be an exciting person to have on the committee...”

The work of the Solid Waste Policy Committee has been contentious for over a year as old members embrace their newly found powers and authority over the solid waste industry while other balk at the changes. Some staff members have been actively advocating for Rumpke representatives to be on the committee, while environmental organizations and minorities are absent.
Solid Waste Manager, Michelle Balz, uses government account to mislead residents.The Cincinnati Post, June 2022

One staff member, Michelle Balz, Solid Waste Manager, was recently found to have sent messages to constituents devaluing their opposition to the DiPuccio appointment. Balz also used her government social media accounts to tell members of the public that “DiPuccio is not employed by Rumpke” despite his own admission and inviting them to contact her personally by phone (presumably so no record would be created). Earlier in the year, Balz sent out an email blast to most every elected official and many employees in the county claiming that opposition to the status quo were “misrepresenting” themselves and spreading “misinformation”.

Thursday, the commissioners will vote on whether to appoint a paid Rumpke consultant to represent all those dependent on Rumpke to haul and dispose of the trash they generate.

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