Transparency hearing Tuesday puts city of Houston in spotlight

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Recycling

HOUSTON — Transparency will be on trial Tuesday, as representatives of a company which believes it was elbowed out of the chance to bid on the city’s recycling contract will be asking for emails that City Hall has been keeping under wraps for almost a year.

Dolcefino Consulting, which is part of the suit against the city, said it has been fighting for reams of emails and other documents on behalf of the recycling firm EcoHub. Dolcefino Consulting chief Wayne Dolcefino said he believes the city is in serious violation of the state’s public information act.

The controversy surrounds the city’s $48.4 million recycling proposal.

EcoHub CEO George Gitschel said earlier this year that he could have saved taxpayers as much as $40 million if he had gotten the deal.

Instead, the city awarded recycling to a national garbage firm.

An email obtained by The Texas Monitor suggests that his firm and his “One-Bin” recycling plan never had much of a chance to win a bid.

Gitschel said Eco-Hub’s proposed state-of-the-art recycling facilities would eliminate the need for landfills. He said he believes that threatened the trillion-dollar garbage industry that makes the lion’s share of its money off of hauling trash to landfills.

Gitschel also claimed that city Solid Waste Management Director Harry Hayes is too cozy with those giant trash firms, which is why they went with a far more expensive company.

At the time, Mayor Sylvester Turner said his legal department looked into it and found no problems.

Dolcefino is asking for the judge to agree to a motion that would compel the city to release all of the now-secret emails to his attorney, Stewart Hoffer.

Hoffer will then view the e-mails under a protective order. Hoffer will not be allowed to share the contents of the e-mails with the public, or even his clients. State law allows this type of inspection.

“I’ve said from the beginning that the city is engaged in a conspiracy to withhold public records,” Dolcefino said. “They are even trying to keep secret records of garbage deals that have already happened. These are deals involving hundreds of millions of dollars. The notion that the public doesn’t have the right to see these communications is shameful.”

Turner Press Secretary Darian Ward did not return a call seeking comment.

The hearing is scheduled to be held before State District Judge Kristen Hawkins at 2 p.m.

“If the public can’t see these emails, [the city has] denied a fundamental right to know how the sausage is made,” Dolcefino said. “And I don’t know what they put in the sausage at this point at Mr. Turner’s City Hall, but something doesn’t smell right.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at 832-258-6119 or tse[email protected].

Editor’s note: The hearing took place Tuesday and the judge said she would make a decision soon. We will update The Texas Monitor when the judge makes her announcement.

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