The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Fish stories

So Mayor Alan Hanks, City Attorney Jason Green and Public Works Director Bob Ellis had a press conference today at the police station. I missed the official part, but Green and Ellis were kind enough to talk with me after the fact.

The press conference pretty much referred to the actions cited in the Fishy story below. Read that here. For Ellis' part, he was unveiling a new security system at the dump's scale house.

Mr. Green has been a trusted source for me for many years. If he tells me he can't tell me something, I believe him. And there's not much he could tell me that he didn't tell me last night. He added today that one city employee has been terminated over this deal.

Fish will lose its ability to do business in Rapid City and the ability to dump at the city dump effective January 1, when his license to do business here will not be renewed. Green said there is an ongoing criminal investigation and criminal charges are likely to be filed in January. He could not say whether charges would be filed against the fired city employee, Fish management or employees, or all three. He could not say if more city employees might be fired or if more might be criminally charged.

Green said the crimes that are the subject of the local police and the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) investigation go back to the early part of the decade.

I asked if the reason it doesn't go back farther is because of the statute of limitations. Green said he could not say. But seven years would put us toward the beginning of the decade.

Mr. Ellis said the decision to improve the security system at the landfill was part of an ongoing effort to come up with a solid waste master plan. He did reveal that the new system at the landfill scale house was expedited due to the problems associated with this investigation.

Add to the mix here, there is a gentleman from Texas who is trying to buy all or part of Fish's business. RR (Red River) Waste Solutions from Austin, Texas. RR Waste Solutions is a privately held corporation owned by James Arrington Smith. He is represented locally by well-known Rapid City business attorney Rich Huffman. (Disclosure: Rich Huffman and I have been friendly acquaintances for many years. We have mutual friends (one close one in particular). We bump into one another at a local watering hole. I've done work for him. He's done none for me.)

Obviously, Rich cannot reveal any details of any contract negotiations his client is involved in. But, in looking at RR Waste Solutions web site here, it appears the fellow is on the up-and-up and a successful mover and shaker in the lucrative waste disposal industry.

Here is where news and blogs separate. News (what you read above) gives you what I know from sources I trust. What follows is PURE NEWS ANALYSIS. NO SOURCE HAS PROVIDED OR CONFIRMED ANY OF THE FOLLOWING NEWS ANALYSIS. ALL PERSONS WHO ARE THE SUBJECT OR SUBJECTS OF THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION REFERRED TO HERE ARE CONSIDERED BY THE COURTS (AND ME) TO BE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. IF YOU RESPECT OUR LEGAL SYSTEM, YOU WILL CONSIDER THEM INNOCENT, TOO, UNTIL A JURY DECIDES OTHERWISE. With that said...

Why take new and extraordinary measures to photograph what comes in on commercial dump trucks? Answer: Commercial garbage haulers pay at the scale house according to the type of waste they're dumping at the landfill. One type may be dumped for free (it's called alternative cover). Remember that because I suspect it will become important later. Alternative cover is dumped for free, according to Ellis, because it actually saves the landfill money. Alternative cover is lightweight, clean material like topsoil, sawdust, etc. which can be used to cover the not-so-clean stuff, like tuna cans and diapers. It is important (now) to photograph the material being brought into the dump by commercial haulers to make sure that the material they're dumping is what they're being charged for.

This reminds me of a ROBO-Wash where I worked while in high school. The carwash owners declared Monday, Ladies Day. Ladies were to receive free car washes when they purchased gasoline. The problem: The car washing machine, the cash register and the oil company management could count every car wash done every day. But they could not tell the difference between a man and a woman. So the station manager pocketed every penny from every man who washed his car on Monday.

See where this is going? Let's say you have an employee who is willing (for a fee) to label stinky garbage "alternative fill" in exchange for a greased palm courtesy of the commercial hauler. So the hauler pays the city employee a fraction of what it would cost to dump stinky garbage and the employee simply records the load as being alternative fill and the city bills the hauler nothing. And until recently, it would be pretty difficult to tell what was in what truck on what day.

Now consider that this investigation goes back to the early part of the decade. I believe (with no source telling me otherwise) that it may go back a lot farther. But even if criminal activity has been taking place for only seven years, that could add up to a lot of clams. And that may be why the city is filing a civil suit. We'll know more when the suit is filed.

Obviously, I'm no lawyer. I don't know if the statute of limitations on civil actions like the one the city plans to initiate against Fish Garbage Service, is longer or shorter than criminal actions. But, I suspect if the analysis above applies to this situation, the city wants the money the hauler in the analysis above didn't pay.

What we don't know about this whole thing is: if it has been going on since early in the decade, why wasn't it discovered by at least two prior public works directors and the current public works director? How did this all come about? Who dropped the ball? Did someone sing? And, of course, if there were payoffs, how high in the system did those payoffs go?

We shall be anxious to see both the civil and criminal complaints.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post, great reporting, great analysis. Just one thing: is the Bob Ellis referenced in this post THE Bob Ellis -- you know, the 6000-year-old Earth one?

Bob Newland said...

I should have mentioned this days ago: Nice work, Mike!

Michael Sanborn said...

Different Bob Ellis.

Danny said...

Well here goes more tax money down the drain. It seems the City should have their ducks in a row before they revoke a businesses license to operate. An aligation of unfair business practices is a stretch, is it an unfair business practice for the City to deny a business license before it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed? The City will be hammered on this one, let's wait and see.