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Partners sought to probe waste agency
December 03, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
The agency overseeing the county’s garbage and recycling collection may get a little oversight itself.

Redwood City officials want fellow members of the South Bayside Waste Management Authority to form a blue ribbon task force to look at the joint powers authority’s governance and the makeup of its board.

"A task force is really long overdue,” said Councilman Jeff Ira.

Ira belongs to the subcommittee asking the full council Monday night to approve a letter inviting elected officials from other cities and agencies to participate.

The SBWMA , also known as RethinkWaste, formed in 1982 and includes Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, San Mateo County and the West Bay Sanitary District. It owns the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos and is led by an executive director who reports to a board of directors comprised of city staff from the various cities.

Ira said his goal is to knuckle down on what they want the JPA to do for its members and evaluate unnecessary duplication.

"If you don’t rein in any government agency it can become a monster,” Ira said.

The task force will also likely look at the current board of directors structure. The idea of switching to elected officials instead rises periodically and Ira, although not a fan of switching, said the question will be addressed again rather than hang unanswered.

Any change requires a super majority of at least eight member agencies to be on board. Earlier this year, the SBWMA asked the members to let it know if they were interested and, if so, it would examine the governance. But Redwood City Manager Bob Bell said it would be awkward to ask the SBWMA to take an objective look at itself.

"It’s almost like asking Congress to unseat themselves,” he said.

Bell sees the task force as a way to possibly make the SBWMA more efficient and effective similar to how Redwood City streamlined its budget and organization. He doesn’t think Redwood City officials have any preconceived notions of what a task force would conclude about the SBWMA but said the request is a confluence of the city’s own efforts and informal talk among the agencies to consider changing how the waste agency operates.

Jerry Hill, who will be sworn in as state senator today, led a push with Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, when both were county supervisors to change the SBWMA board to elected officials but the idea never came to fruition. Hill said he is happy to see the possibility still has traction but finds it ironic Redwood City is leading the charge since he said the city was the most resistant to his proposal.

"The arguments made at the time were that they were dealing with complex issues that required a public works director or someone with that expertise and the other argument was that decisions like billion-dollar contracts should be left to an apolitical body. Both of those are bogus,” Hill said.

Hill, and others who support a board of elected officials, say they bring a different skill set and level of responsibility.

San Carlos Assistant City Manager Brian Moura, who sits on the SBWMA board, said other ideas in years past include having two boards — one of staff and another of supervisors overseeing budget and hiring — and having a mix of staff and officials on one board.

Hill isn’t a fan of the last option.

He pointed to the San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District as an example of a body involving both appointed staff and officials. The district lost more than a half-million dollars due to the alleged embezzlement of two former finance workers.

"My sense is it’s exactly the same there as with the SBWMA,” Hill said.

Moura said the SBWMA received a letter from eh Redwood City Utilities Committee, the body proposing the task force, asking that it trim its budget to help with rates.

"And there have clearly been cuts but we need to hear from them what else is desired,” Moura said.

Bell said while staffing did lose a position — a layoff that led to retaliation claims against the executive director by the employee — the full-time equivalent counts have actually increased a bit.

"So we think that’s something else that we might want to take a look at,” Bell said.

The SBWMA’s budget for fiscal year 2012 included more than $40 million in revenue and operating expenses of $36.5 million. The program budget of $3.5 million includes the cost of 7.8 employees along with other administrative, recycling diversion program and contract compliance expenses.

The draft letter up for discussion Monday night by the Redwood City Council asks each member agency if it cares to participate and, if so, to appoint an elected official to serve. Answers are requested by the first week in February and Bell anticipates, if the idea goes ahead, the process will take at least the better part of next year. Once the analysis is done, any recommendations can come back to the full SBWMA board to gauge if enough support exists for implementation.


The Redwood City Council meets 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3 at City Hall, 1017 Middlefield Road, Redwood City.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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