Houston mayor reverses course on recycling deal

Mayor Sylvester Turner

HOUSTON — Mayor Sylvester Turner abruptly changed course Friday on his administration’s pick for a recycling company, tossing out the winning bidder and allowing all four firms who were finalists another shot at the deal worth $48.4 million.

“After visiting with members of City Council about our effort to choose a curbside recycling company to handle Houston’s needs, I have decided to reopen the process for the four companies that advanced to the interview stage,” Turner said in a statement. “This action is designed to put to rest the concerns raised by members of Council, which must approve the contract before it takes effect.”

The city’s top choice for the recycling contract had been Spain-based Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas, widely known in U.S. as FCC.

The four firms who are on the hunt again to present the best deal are FCC, Republic Services, Waste Management Inc., and Independent Texas Recyclers.

Turner and his team chose the winner on a series of criteria that many on city council questioned. Council members voiced concerns over how Turner’s administration scored the winning bid, and about the secrecy surrounding the deal.

See that Texas Monitor report here: Houston trash deal vote delayed amid questions over transparency, pricing

“It smells, it stinks, it’s rotten,” Councilman Dave Martin said during a city council meeting earlier this week where Turner staunchly defended the process by which the winning bidder came before city council.

“The process is sound and we’ve operated the process with integrity. And I’m standing by this one,” Turner said at the time.

That was Wednesday.

After that meeting, Turner met privately in small meetings with every council member.

“It was an open and honest dialogue about how we move forward,” Martin said of his meeting with the mayor. “I felt very good when I left that meeting about the meeting itself.”

By Friday, Turner had changed his mind on the deal and agreed to re-bid the deal and accept the winner.

“Whatever the result, my only allegiance is to this city and I will always seek what is in its best interest,” Turner said.

Council members praised the move, including Martin who had raised issues about what appeared to be a murky grading system surrounding the winning firm’s cost to city taxpayers. He said having all council members comfortable about the fairness of the deal.

“You want to have everybody on board and I think the mayor is trying to get everybody on board,” Martin said. “And the best way to get everybody on board is to go back and give the opportunity to the folks who were qualified to bid initially to provide a best and final offer.”

Martin said of Turner: “I applaud him for his efforts.”

See additional Texas Monitor coverage of the issue:

One person not happy with the deal is the chairman of the Houston company proposing a “One Bin” solution for Houston residents’ trash and recyclables. George Gitschel of Eco-Hub on Wednesday said he was close to a deal with the city when Turner scrapped the “One Bin” plan.

Eco-Hub was not invited to participate in the re-bid.

Gitschel said his proposed state-of-the-art recycling facilities would eliminate the need for landfills, create thousands of jobs, and save taxpayers as much as $40 million.

“I’ve been told (the mayor’s change of heart) is really great and fair,” Gitschel said Friday. “I say, wait, what about me? This was specifically written to prevent me from participating.”

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

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.


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