The trash talk continued in Bloomington this week, as a foe of organized garbage collection suggested the City Council was holding court in a "throne room" and the mayor retorted that opponents were "grandstanding."
Amid the verbal daggers, the council once again quashed an attempt by some residents to stop the unified trash hauling system that the city adopted last year after nearly two years of studies and public hearings.
Acting on advice from city attorneys, the council on Monday unanimously declared that an attempt to put the issue to a public vote by amending the city's charter would be "manifestly unconstitutional."
Despite organized and vocal opposition — with hundreds turning out at public meetings — council members said they believe the move is in Bloomington's best interest.
"I view this whole argument of organized collection — yes or no, up or down, back or forth — as a public works process," said Mayor Gene Winstead. "And it's something that we as a City Council are responsible for. It's a way to prudently operate your community."
Plenty of residents support organized collection, said Council Member Jon Oleson; they just aren't as vocal as the opponents.
"Some supporters have said, 'I'm not going to go up against the people who are so angry that they'll shout me down and intimidate me,' " Oleson said. "When people get in a group and they all have the same mind, it's easy to think they're in the majority when, in fact, they aren't necessarily."
Under the organized collection plan, the seven garbage haulers currently licensed to do business in the city have formed a consortium, Bloomington Haulers Inc., to collect all trash from single-family homes. The city has signed a five-year contract with the group, renewable for five more years; that means that residents can no longer cut their own deals with individual garbage haulers.
This is the third attempt by a small group of opponents to stop organized collection in Bloomington. First they sued, but a Hennepin County judge rejected their complaint. Then they tried to get an initiative on the ballot, but their petition was rejected by the city clerk for lack of valid signatures.
As the council prepared to vote at Monday's meeting, organized collection opponent William Reichert strode to the microphone and interrupted the vote.
"This is not a public hearing," Winstead told him.
"No, but I'm going to stand here and exercise my First Amendment rights," Reichert replied heatedly. "This is not a throne room, this is a representative government's chamber."
Winstead said he wouldn't accept Reichert's testimony on an issue the council had already decided, "because you want to grandstand."
With that, the mayor recessed the council meeting.
The unified-system opponents will meet to discuss options, which could include another lawsuit, said Joel Jennissen, one of the group's leaders.
"It started as [being about] organized collection, but it's really become more just trying to protect our rights and have them honored," he said. "What we have as government isn't necessarily representing us. People know that there's something wrong. They can't quite put a finger on it, but they sense that something's going on."