NEWARK, NJ - City council wanted to get to the bottom of an issue that residents have been inundating them with for at least the past month: Why hasn’t recycling been getting picked up regularly and when will street sweepers get to certain roads?
The two issues are separate. A contract dispute is at play when it comes to recycling pickup, while inexperienced drivers and call outs have supposedly contributed to the street sweeping problems.
Both issues, however, are making for one messy city, especially in the hot, humid and sticky summer months. The complaints are also rolling in at a time when the city recently unveiled its new fleet of street sweepers and garbage trucks during a press conference.
“Garbage, more than anything else, reflects how we care about the residents in our own communities," said East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador during a council meeting yesterday. "If we don't do a good job, people lose faith in us.”
Administrators in the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) attempted to bring clarity to the situation when they spoke at a city council meeting yesterday. However, city spokesman Frank Baraff said late last evening that the presentation given by administrators at the public meeting was “totally not true” and gave a different explanation of the issue.
The president of the former vendor that was responsible for the city’s recycling pickup gave his own two cents to council members too.
THE RECYCLING EXPLANATION FROM DPW’S SECOND-IN-COMMAND
Getting to the bottom of the recycling problem is not so clear-cut, and finger pointing abounds from each group involved.
The city has outsourced its recycling services in the past and intends to keep doing so, but the arrangement has become tangled recently.
DPW Assistant Director Valerie Gholston-Key told councilmembers the company that picks up recycling, Galaxy Carting, "walked away" from providing services around July, but the company’s president, Gary Giordano, says that’s not the case.
The city entered into an emergency arrangement with Basso Recycling on Aug. 6 and began to supplement its in-house recycling collections, Gholston-Key said.
“People who collect garbage were sent on their rounds and then afterwards, they were supposed to go back out in the recycling trucks and pick up recycling,” explained the city’s corporation counsel, Kenyatta Stewart, to council members.
The change hasn’t brought many pleasant results, according to councilmembers who have heard from their constituents. Amador, for example, said he heard recycling was being picked up as late as 10:30 p.m., making noise and throwing around cans at night.
Gholston-Key, the assistant DPW director, said at the meeting that a bid was sent out to 23 companies for a new recycling pick up vendor, but only two responded. Giordano said his company was one of the bidders.
A new vendor will be recommended to the business administrator on Friday, Gholston-Key said. The nominated vendor will then need to be approved by city council.
Even though Galaxy Carting’s relationship with the city has apparently soured in the last few weeks, Giordano said the contract is lucrative and he still wants a go at it. He said about 40 employees - who are all Newark residents - collect recycling throughout the entire city with eight to 10 trucks.
GALAXY CARTING’S EXPLANATION
Giordano, Galaxy's president, said not so fast to the assistant DPW director’s explanation about his company. He told TAPinto Newark that the city told him his services were no longer needed around July.
“We did not walk away from the contract,” Giordano said.
Giordano said his company once had a three-year contract with the city, but they’ve been working on 90-day extensions since February 2017. Around mid-July, Giordano said he asked the city’s department of public works director if they would be staying on starting in August.
Galaxy Carting stayed on for about eight more days in August, which Giordano says was a courtesy to the city.
“The eighth, they said, ‘Okay, you can stop now. We’re going to handle it. We’re going a different route,’” Giordano told TAPinto. He said during the council meeting that DPW Director Khalif Thomas never explained why.
THE DPW DIRECTOR’S EXPLANATION
Thomas - the top administrator of the DPW - did not attend yesterday’s council meeting. Baraff, the city spokesman, said Thomas was in Trenton for a management class instead.
Thomas did not answer his cell phone and his voice mailbox had not been set up when TAPinto Newark called. The phone at the DPW director’s office rang continuously yesterday and no one answered.
The city spokesman said Galaxy never had a long-term contract with the city. Instead, the company has been working on an emergency basis since 2014, Baraff said.
However, online city records show that a long-term, two-year contract with Galaxy for recycling services was approved on Nov. 6, 2014.
Around July, the city decided that it was no longer happy with Galaxy services, so a bid was put out for a new vendor and awarded to a different company, Baraff said.
But there were some problems with the new vendor. The new vendor hadn’t been paying the city payroll taxes, Baraff said, so the contract was pulled. That’s what has created a lapse in vendors, he claimed.
City officials could not provide the proper name of that vendor.
Baraff said when Thomas, the DPW director, first took the helm of the department in 2017, he wanted to make changes. Baraff claimed Galaxy’s contract wasn’t awarded an extension because it also wasn’t paying payroll taxes.
Galaxy vehemently denies that claim.
“We pay all of our taxes. I don’t know what they’re talking about - payroll taxes,” said Giordano, Galaxy’s CEO. “Everyone one of our taxes are paid.”
Even though the street sweepers don’t come, residents are calling councilmembers and telling them that authorities are still ticketing and towing cars for being parked on the roads to make way for the trucks.
“For someone to not have their sweeping done, then the police come by and tow their vehicle and now they have to go through getting their car cleared or returned,” said South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, “I mean, there's no excuse for it."
Amador, meanwhile, said there had to be more coordinated communication between police and the sanitation departments to avoid towing. Amador said it costs some residents about $300 to get their cars back.
"This is insane. We can't do this. The residents of any other city wouldn't be able to tolerate this, but we do it. We do it every week."
The city has recently started to do street sweeping in-house, without a vendor.
Ronald Snead, who manages the sanitation department, said the prior vendor the city worked with had 12 brooms, while now there are only seven or 8. He said he’s asked for more sweepers, too.
“Our drivers are inexperienced,” he said to council members during the meeting. “We had a company here for 20 years that we weren't satisfied with. And you guys expect us to be able to do what they did over the last 15 years in a matter of months. We've only been sweeping now about six months. And I believe they're doing a great job.”
Snead, the sanitation manager, said the department has just one supervisor. Amador called for supervisors to drive behind the sweeper and check to see if the work is being done.