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City hopes others join waste agency probe
December 05, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Redwood City officials say they "owe” it to residents to evaluate the county’s primary waste collection agency to see if it is being as efficient as possible while its members make hard decisions about rate hikes year after year.

Councilwoman Rosanne Foust, who chairs the city’s utilities commission seeking a blue ribbon task force on the South Bay Waste Management Authority, said at Monday night’s council meeting she was also troubled by the handling of an ex-employee’s retaliation claim against the executive director after her job was cut.

"I’m not going to sugarcoat this,” Foust said in a video of the meeting, "When the governing body chooses not to put the executive director on leave while the issue is being looked at ... it just said to us, you know what? It’s time to take a look at the whole governance structure.”

Whether an external review of the SBWMA happens remains to be seen. The City Council unanimously agreed to send letters to each member agency inviting them to name a representative for a task force by February. Each member must now decide for itself whether to participate.

The SBWMA, also known as RethinkWaste, formed in 1982 and its members include 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.

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.

For several years, the idea of changing the board to elected officials rather than appointed staff has arisen but never been acted upon. The possibility may be something considered by the task force but isn’t necessarily the goal, said Redwood City Manager Bob Bell.

Within the last year, the SBWMA board told its members to alert it if they were interested in a possible change which sparked the city’s action, Bell said.

Any amendment requires a supermajority of at least eight member agencies to be on board.

However, Bell and the councilmembers said having the board review itself for possible change or dissolution was "awkward” which is why they prefer the task force process.

Foust said the idea was not to point fingers at the agency’s service but assess if it can more efficiently use funds.

"We are not questioning whether the job being done is a good job or not but is there a redundancy,” Foust said.

Foust and other members of the committee like councilmen John Seybert and Jeff Ira said they owe it to the community to keep the joint powers authority in line as they ask residents to continually accept rate increases.

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

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