Montebello’s city council may get a second chance to decide on a hot button trash-hauling contract, which was approved by a split council back in July.
The 15-year contract with Athens Services is the subject of a referendum that just had its petition signatures qualified by the county. The city clerk’s office received word from the county on Sept. 25. As a result, the referendum will likely come before the council at the Oct. 8 meeting.
The county registrar’s office validated 4,578 signatures out of the 6,286 that were submitted, nearly twice the number of signatures that were needed to qualify the referendum. Valid signatures were required from at least ten percent of the 25,199 registered voters in Montebello.
Council will first decide if the referendum is valid, according to City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman. Then they will decide which direction to take on the Athens Services contract.
“The council has the decision of whether to rescind their decision or place it before the voters,” he says.
If the city council decides not to rescind the contract, the people will decide whether to keep the contract at the next city-level election, according to City Clerk Robert King.
“They have enough signatures to do that… They’re not asking to have a special election. They are asking to have it at the next election in Montebello in November 2009,” he says.
The city’s contract with Athens Services has been a matter of contention at the council meetings held in the past two months, but this is the first time since it was approved that the contract may once again be discussed as an official item on the agenda.
Critics of the contract take issue with the fact that it was approved without a bidding process.
But Mayor Pro Tem Rosie Vasquez, who voted for the contract, says bidding never entered the process because staff never recommended it.
“I have no clue what would have happened in Montebello [if we had gone to bid]… But there are a lot of contracts in Montebello where we don’t do an RFP [Request for Proposal],” she says.
“[City Administrator] Richard [Torres] is the one that many times suggests these things. He has never said this contract should go through an RFP,” she says.
It was too late to go to a bid after the contract was approved, she added.
“I talked to someone who’s knowledgeable about this. Athens will come and file a big lawsuit against you. Once you approve it, it’s a contract. If you decide to change your mind and go back, they’ll file a lawsuit,” she says.
Athens Services floated the possibility of a lawsuit in August. A letter sent by Athens’ lawyer to the city and forwarded to the independent haulers’ lawyer took issue with the city allowing the referendum to be circulated. The petition was defective because it used an “early draft” of the contract, Athens’ lawyer claimed.
Athens has not made their intentions known since that letter.
“Athens has not filed anything that I’m aware of, but we fully expect them to do so,” says Chris Robles, the consultant for the referendum campaign.
Councilman Robert Urteaga voted for the contract. He was unavailable for comment at press time, but has stated in the past that he would support the issue going to the ballot.
Kathy Salazar says rescinding the contract is not an option for her.
“I made a decision based on what I felt was best for the community. Why would I take that away? I would like to see if people agree,” she says.
But first the referendum has to be deemed valid, she says. “Of course we’ll ask our city attorney and see what he says, and whatever he says we will make a decision,” she added.
Vasquez voiced her support for the referendum going to a vote, as well.
“I’m glad they qualified the signatures. The community did that and I think that’s fine. If everything is fine with the petition, better to the will of the people,” she says.
She doesn’t know yet if she will decide to rescind the contract because she has not had a chance to look into the matter too deeply.
She still supports the contract, and says the city needs money to fund its infrastructure and public facilities. The provisions of the Athens contract will allow for that, she says.
In mid-September, she stepped in to sign the contract in the place of the Mayor. The contract had been unsigned since the end of July when it was first presented to the Mayor.
Mayor Molinari says the community has spoken out regularly against the contract at the numerous council meetings held since it was approved, but he doesn’t see any evidence that the council is any less divided on whether or not to keep the Athens contract.
Nevertheless, he thinks the sentiments shown at the meetings will now get their chance on the ballot.
‘“I think the group that sponsored the referendum did a really outstanding job. They collected in excess of 6,000 signatures. Community response showed they were very unhappy with the contract,” Molinari said.