Additional Thoughts (Jan 2, 2021) – Regional Solid Waste Authority

Jan 2, 2021 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Jan 2, 2021 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section. This item was later pulled from the Council agenda of Jan 4, 2021, and will appear on the Jan 18, 2021 agenda.

Agenda item DC-2 is a resolution directing our City Administrator to effect Ann Arbor’s membership in the Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority (WRRMA). This topic was first discussed in March 2019, when Council considered approval of the WRRMA’s Articles of Incorporation. At that time, Council chose not to move forward with membership. The issue was “tabled” for several reasons.

First, significant review and analysis of our existing solid waste services was still underway at that time. An advisory committee of local advocates and stakeholders had been working with a consultant for months, assessing the city’s solid waste management; in March 2019, this committee had not yet completed or submitted its report of recommendations. Without this report – what eventually became the Solid Waste Resource Management Plan (SWRMP) – it seemed premature to join the WRRMA.

Secondly (and perhaps more importantly), when it was last discussed in March 2019, both environmental and labor interests raised issues about the governing structure of the WRRMA as outlined in the Article of Incorporation. They worried about how Ann Arbor would assert our local values and priorities in an organization where each municipality had exactly one vote (regardless of the municipality’s size or scale of waste collection). At the time, advocates reached out to me with a variety of concerns re: how Ann Arbor could be outnumbered (and out-voted) in this regional authority. They described specific policies that might be appealing to other members of the WRRMA, but would not be appropriate in Ann Arbor because such policies would compromise our local commitment to both recycling and fair labor practices.

I was surprised that in Legistar, agenda item DC-2 does not include a file for the WRRMA Articles of Incorporation. I’ve asked that this be attached. My understanding is that the voting policies – considered problematic by environmental and labor advocates – have not been altered since March 2019. This week’s resolution acknowledges the shortcomings of the current governing structure of WRRMA and optimism that it might change. Apparently the topic of proportional voting was discussed at WRRMA in July 2020 and they resolved to “consider amending” terms for the approval of contracts.

The Solid Waste Resource Management Plan (SWRMP) approved by Council (October 2020) includes direction for City staff to attend WRRMA meetings and “seek opportunities to partner with WRRMA to increase access to collection options for Ann Arbor residents.” However, the decision to officially join WRRMA is fairly significant. I’m sorry that this decision lands on our agenda right after a holiday when folks are less likely to notice it. During this holiday week, I reached out to labor advocates to get perspectives— they were surprised to learn that Council was voting on it and they wanted more information.

I look forward to discussion at our meeting about how and why it’s appropriate for us to join WRRMA now, before clarifying the issue of representation/voting. I am especially curious to learn more details about WRRMA’s commitments in July 2020.