Bonnie Blodgett’s June 30 commentary “St. Paul’s waste-bin blues,” disparaging the citizens’ lawsuit filed against the city, merits further comment.
The opinions she offers comprise a series of non sequiturs, drawn from misstatements almost too numerous to detail. A few, however, warrant special mention.
One notable red flag is her claim that she was “stunned” by the judge’s ruling that the city trash plan should be put to a vote. Nowhere does she provide any evidence to show that she even read the judge’s reasons for his decision.
In fact, the only explanation Blodgett offers for her criticism of the court’s ruling is her claim that the judge either forgot or ignored “the fact that City Council members and the mayor are elected representatives of we-the-people” and that “they are entrusted by law to protect the greater good.”
In other words, this writer claims that the citizens have no right to question the actions of their elected officials. This misplaced notion goes to the issue at the heart of this matter.
The premise for this lawsuit isn’t just “trash collection.” St. Paul’s City Charter grants its citizens the right to have a say in any ordinance that the city passes. This is true even when our elected officials are acting in good faith.
If enough citizens question the wisdom of any ordinance, through the process known as a referendum, the people can require that the law be subjected to a popular vote. Unless a majority of voters approve the law, it will not pass.
In order to establish the right to hold a ballot vote, our City Charter requires that sufficient support for the referendum be shown by gathering signatures of registered voters. Despite the city’s own admission that the requisite number of signatures had been obtained, the city wrongfully denied our right to the referendum.
Blodgett’s claim that the “furor” over the city’s conduct is due to a “few noisy naysayers” is simply not true. Her attempt to portray the lawsuit as the frivolity of a “litigious” city shows a lack of basic knowledge about the referendum process. It also ignores the reality that when St. Paul refused to honor its citizens’ right to a ballot vote, a lawsuit was the only recourse.
Blodgett attempts to dismiss the significance of the 6,000-plus petition signatures that were gathered. Apparently, she is unaware that the number required is set by law; it is based on the number of votes cast in a previous election. The judge’s opinion details these basic facts.
The court also points out that the strict time limit to gather those signatures was a brief 45 days. Contrary to Blodgett’s claim, a petition drive will fail without significant voter support.
Beyond the petition, the city’s own website holds abundant evidence of widespread opposition to its new trash plan. In July 2017, thousands of St. Paul citizens posted e-mails and letters, objecting to the city’s proposed plan. This occurred one year before an all-volunteer community formed to gather the petition signatures.
When news reports finally revealed the high cost and limited options of the new city plan, even many who had initially supported it wrote to the city in protest. While these citizen comments are not easy to find, they remain available to anyone willing to search the city’s website.
One of the biggest flaws with St. Paul’s “one-size-fits-all” plan is its high rates. Despite citing Maplewood as a comparative model, St. Paul agreed to pay its private haulers 2½ to 3 times Maplewood’s rates.
Unlike Maplewood, St. Paul refused to allow residents to share services or opt out. Such simple changes would greatly reduce the economic distress now inflicted on low-income and retired residents.
Blodgett’s claim that we lost so many local haulers to “globalization and free trade” is absurd. To the contrary, the majority of our former local haulers did not “close their businesses.” They simply left St. Paul.
Some only pulled out of St. Paul’s residential market while continuing to serve commercial customers. Their mass exodus clearly reflects the burdens imposed by the city’s plan and a monopolistic consortium dominated by two large national companies.
Blodgett cites the mayor’s threat to raise taxes as a reason to keep the dysfunctional city plan in place. This falsely assumes that if the ordinance is suspended, the city somehow remains obligated to pay the haulers’ garbage bills. The court’s decision, however, points to a different outcome.
The judge’s memorandum explains how the referendum presents a “legislative event” beyond the city’s control. It thereby triggers the contract’s “Force Majeure” clause, relieving the city of its contractual obligations. In other words, if our citizens vote against the city plan, it will nullify any duty by the city to guarantee payments to the private haulers.
Despite Blodgett’s claim to be a “staunch individualist,” her assertion that our citizens have no right to question the conduct of their elected representatives runs counter to our City Charter as well as to our common sense. It also fosters an abuse of power that seeks a greater foothold in St. Paul.
Patricia J. Hartmann, an attorney, is one of the members of the grassroots committee that gathered signatures in support of the referendum petition over St. Paul’s trash-collection ordinance.