West Covina And The Art Of Ignoring The Obvious

As Groucho Marx once said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

I was reminded of the line after reading that West Covina approved a rolling, 25-year deal with Athens Services for trash collection.

This is not about Athens, really. Athens was a contributing factor in a failed recall in West Covina not too long ago and the main factor in a successful recall in Montebello. The company is now battling with Montebello over whether its contract is still valid after a judge said a no-bid contract violated state law.

But the company appears to be doing the job it has been hired to do in West Covina and other cities. With California making trash collection a labyrinthian maze of tortuous regulations, a trash company that can keep residents moderately happy and make a profit should be given the benefit of the doubt.

(I’ll leave aside questions about how a company can give West Covina $2 million upfront and $100,000 annually while only collecting “fees.” What, no free coffee and donuts?)

This is about the City Council’s rationale in approving the deal. Mayor Mike Touhey told a reporter, “My job is to make sure we’re getting something that protects the ratepayers more than anything. We already have proven we have a good deal.”

That’s reasonable. But, according to a staff report, “City staff’s initial impression is that this proposal is not equitable or fair to the City of West Covina.”

See wait, what? I’m no rocket scientist, and certainly no elected official, but can those two statements co-exist?

Obviously the staff’s position was buried deep in a lengthy report and was easy to miss, because, damn it, who has time to read all this nonsense?

It’s completely understandable, and I’m sure that the three council members who approved the deal were not properly informed of staff’s particular position.

“On initial review, this is not equitable or fair for the city of West Covina,” the deputy city manager repeated before the council approved the deal.

Anyway, seriously, I’m sure that the financial numbers are minor. What’s a few dollars between good friends?

The story on the deal pointed out this other fact:

“Athens guaranteed neighboring Covina $2 million and double the amount of annual donations for an exclusive 20-year trash deal.”

OK. Whatever. The West Covina council members (minus one annoying dissenter who complained there might be a better deal) knew what they were doing. They probably short-circuited an overreaching city staff that lacked a clear reason for its opinion and wanted to cut Athens out.

“City staff supports the negotiation of a contract extension (with Athens Services) By doing so, West Covina will attempt to maintain a relationship with a proven contractor, help secure future landfill space for City’s waste, and attempt to secure financial compensation in exchange for a contract extension. This option would also allow the City to remove some of the provisions mentioned above that are of concern to the City.”

Details, details. I completely agree with Mayor Touhey. West Covina approved the best deal it could, regardless of the better deals other, smaller cities obtained and what a well-researched unbiased staff report recommended.

I know that the mayor will give this same type of due diligence and attention to detail in his next elected position and continue to be a sharp steward of the people’s tax dollars. I mean fees.

Originally posted in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune

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