Facts should outweigh emotions

Published 10:25 am Tuesday, December 11, 2012

As you may well know with me working within the community for over the past 30 years now, I normally do not chime in on public press and rumors on the street. Rather, I prefer and think it to be more productive to conduct business in the office and directly with individuals in order to resolve problems and issues.

However, in the case of the ongoing Solid Waste District verse CAO debate, that opportunity does not appear to exist, and I think the public should know more of the facts and underlying conditions so that they may better draw their own objective conclusions. Therefore please accept this letter as my personal weigh in on the matter, but not as any official position or statement on behalf of the CAO.

First, I am one of the few remaining individuals that have a familiarity of the Solid Waste District and CAO relationship since its inception and assisted in drafting of the contractual agreements for the two parties.

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In the beginning, the two counties (Lawrence and Scioto) came to the CAO at a time when EPA was placing fines on the Solid Waste District for non-compliance, and the state EPA was writing a plan in which the state was going to enforce implementation at the cost of the two counties.

In an effort to be a supportive community partner, the CAO corporation stepped up to the plate and assisted the two counties by using its own staffing and financial resources in combination with the little financial support that the two counties were able to contribute at the time, and by using an existing fleet of vehicles that the CAO owned, put together an acceptable plan to keep EPA from continuing to levy its fines and to also allow for the operation of much more cost effective locally design program that met the newly imposed Solid Waste District requirements.

It was sometime later that the two counties found it to be beneficial to place the tax parcel fee to provide a permanent revenue stream source for the Solid Waste District operation. With that investment and the continued oversight and support of CAO, the solid waste program was able to develop into one of the most successful proto-type programs in the state.

This was done with the credit of the staff in that program department along with other supporting staff within the CAO.

Therefore, at this point when the Solid Waste District chose to discontinue the CAO contract, I can only think that the CAO continues to want the solid waste programs and activities it developed to continue to flourish and build upon its success even though it is no longer a part of the CAO’s daily operations.

The CAO, along with many of our other partnering development agencies like LEDC and the Port Authorities, have been asked many times to step up to assist the community whenever possible.

The CAO has done that often by assisting with such needs as in the community development programs, the flood plain management program, an effort to revive medical facilities to replace the hospital, along with many other like needs and initiatives.

However, one common factor occurs when we as an agency do step up. We attempt to do so in a business like manner with contracts. One common piece of those contracts is that they have a simple “discontinuation notification clause” for both parties.

This allows the CAO an opportunity to exit a contract with a simple notification should the obligations under the contract become too great or we feel it adversely affecting the operations and mission of the CAO. That clause allows the solid waste district in this case, or other contracting entities, the ability to exit based upon a like notification if that entity thinks taxpayer funds can be more effectively administered otherwise.

Although Mr. Palmer, acting now as a Scioto County employee and director of the Solid Waste District, has never met with CAO staff to discuss issues cited in the recent newspaper articles, we are reading statements being made that the CAO has refused to turn over vehicles titled as part of its CAO vehicle fleet along with receipts of the Solid Waste District.

The fact is, the Solid Waste District funding having been received from tax revenues, must be administered by a public fiscal entity; Lawrence County up to the point of this most recent action, and now Scioto County.

Funds paid to the CAO were payments connected in performance to a lump sum contract in which Mr. Palmer oversaw when he was an employee of the CAO. Providing transportation needed for Solid Waste District activities was a requirement under contract that for which the CAO was responsible.

In the beginning of that contract, there were insufficient funds for those transportation costs and that contractual obligation was in turn met by the CAO by utilizing a portion of the vehicle fleet it had available at that time.

Once the revenue streams of the Solid Waste program under the contract increased, those vehicles have since been replaced various times to the vehicle fleet most recently utilized for the solid waste program up to the point in time the Solid Waste Program chose to leave the CAO.

As with any action of this size and nature, there are both many foreseen and unforeseen issues and details that need to be dealt with and worked out. That is the purpose of contracts to guide us through these issues.

Sometimes, contracts can be interpreted differently, and sometimes it takes objective third parties such as legal counsel or mediation to make those interpretations and determinations.

It must also be remembered that the CAO as a federally designated non-profit corporation like government also has to follow certain governmental rules, regulations, and policies for which it is audited, and that it cannot just simply give away assets of the corporation without a clear and responsible course of action, a factor that I am sure weighed heavily on the minds of our CAO board members when they chose to take no action at their recent board meeting.

That is why we at CAO encouraged the Solid Waste Board to develop a transitional plan rather than to rely upon any impulsive actions which creates problems for both parties once we heard of the District’s desire to end the contract.

I don’t think there is any question among either party that it is the right of the Solid Waste District to discontinue the contract with CAO in order for those employees who went with that program to obtain a better wage scale and benefits afforded to a public employee.

However, that separation would have been much better served for the public if a transition plan were put into place prior to making any such move.

A prime example of a like action in which a transition plan was developed and successfully transferred was that of the very successful Floodplain Management Program which was initially contracted and developed by the CAO, and now continues to run as a very efficient program by Lawrence County at their Soil and Water Office.

Mr. Palmer now serves directly under the employment and direction of the Solid Waste District Board. However, if he were still under my management here as a CAO staff employee, I would have never encouraged taking such an action without a well thought out transition plan that would have minimize disruption of services to the public.

Given that course of action did not occur, I would now recommend that he sit down with the other party (CAO) and try to work out an interim plan so that vehicles and other assets can be utilized until such a time that all the other details and interpretations of the contract can be worked out.


Ralph Kline is the assistant executive director of development and planning for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization.