A judge will decide whether Bloomington residents can demand a vote on who picks up their trash.

The City Council in June approved a system of “organized collection,” with Bloomington’s current licensed trash haulers agreeing to split the market among themselves under terms negotiated with the city. Officials said the system would be more efficient, better for the environment and save city residents money overall.

The issue was contested hotly, with public hearings in Bloomington drawing several hundred residents and a lobbying campaign funded by supporters of the existing private, competitive garbage-collection system.

Meanwhile, a group of citizens circulated a petition to put an initiative on the ballot barring the city from adopting organized collection. When the city denied the petition, telling residents that state law gives Bloomington the right to adopt organized collection without further citizen input, they sued.

Now, after a court hearing, a judge is set to decide the suit brought by five opponents of organized collection. Both sides have asked Hennepin County District Judge James Moore for a summary judgment in their favor.

“We feel pretty good about our chances,” said Michael Drysdale, the attorney representing the five plaintiffs. “We believe this type of initiative was something that was completely envisioned by the Legislature” when it passed laws dealing with solid waste collection.

“We’re seeking for the people to have a more direct voice in the matter,” Drysdale said. Opposing the citizens’ request for an initiative, he said, “is pretty aggressive on the part of the city.”

Vocal opposition

Several of the plaintiffs have been politically active in recent years. William Reichert has run unsuccessfully for the Bloomington school board, City Council and the state House of Representatives. Russell Burnison, another plaintiff, was campaign chair for Reichert in his House race. Another plaintiff, Joel Jennissen, lost a state House race in 2010.

Three of the five plaintiffs live near one other on Nine Mile Creek Parkway. Calls to the plaintiffs Thursday were not returned.

In legal filings, the city said allowing a citizen vote on the garbage proposal would be “chaotic” and would “destroy the efficiency necessary to the successful administration of the business affairs of a city.”

Mayor Gene Winstead said he believes there’s wide support for organized collection.

“It’s not who shows up and yells loud,” he said. “We always proceeded within the fact that it was within our abilities and rights to implement this.”

If the judge grants permission for a ballot initiative, Winstead said, the city would provide information to voters but wouldn’t mount its own intensive lobbying effort.

“I’m not going to raise a campaign for it,” he said. If it goes to a vote, “then we would just take on the process.”

Moore could issue his decision any time within the next 90 days.