Talking (more) Trash

Published 5:28 pm Sunday, October 19, 2014

Some of the 300 individuals gathered in the second floor courtroom of the Bertie County Courthouse stand and applaud during Thursday night’s public hearing. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Some of the 300 individuals gathered in the second floor courtroom of the Bertie County Courthouse stand and applaud during Thursday night’s public hearing. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

WINDSOR – It was supposed to be a public hearing on a new contract for Bertie County’s convenience center trash sites.

Instead, it became an open forum where the speakers not only voiced their overwhelming displeasure at the issue of curbside trash pick-up, but also wanted to know if the issue would be raised by the Board of Commissioners again.

Meanwhile, there was very little discussion on a new convenience sites contract.

Board of Commissioners Chairman J. Wallace Perry read a statement in which he highlighted the terms of the contract extension proposal from Waste Industries, operators of the five sites, and revealed that there has been a second proposal submitted from Republic Services – operators of the county landfill, East Carolina Environmental, in Aulander.

“Proposals are due on Nov. 6,” said Perry in his statement. “This board will make a decision after that date.”

Perry said the Commissioners were not there to review the contract and said it was available on the county website.

“We’re here tonight to listen,” he added. “We want your comments and we welcome your opinion.”

Following this, the public speakers, beginning with septuagenarian Willie Bazemore, paraded to the microphone.

As the speakers one-by-one voiced both their displeasure with the idea of curbside trash pick-up as well as their preference for the convenience sites, the crowd of over 300 gathered in the second floor courtroom of the Bertie County Courthouse cheered and applauded.

“Keep the convenience sites,” said Frances Byrum. “They are a lot neater and with curbside pickup we’re going to have people dumping (trash) on land.”

Commission candidate Stewart White thanked the outgoing Commissioners for their service and cautioned those that remained.

“Do you hear the citizens,” White asked. “You are here to serve the citizens.”

Some of the speakers particularly thanked outgoing Commissioner Charles Smith for sharing his opinion in the local media, condemning curbside pick-ups.

“You should have written that letter before the last election,” mused Milton Felton of Colerain, to a round of applause from the crowd.

During his turn at the microphone, another commission candidate, John Davis, struck a nerve when he said curbside debate is dead.

“We had the funeral last July,” declared Davis. “From April to December it was curbside versus convenience sites. There was nothing sinister about it. It was tabled in January. The commissioners have listened to you.  This decision was not done in a hurry or forced upon you.”

Davis’ remarks were challenged by several succeeding speakers beginning with Cathy Myers of Merry Hill.

“Is curbside dead,” she asked. “Then why are we here?”

Myers’ remarks seemed to spur on the crowd. “The silent majority of the citizens favor the convenience sites,” she added.

Gradually, some of the latter speakers tried to steer their remarks back to the sites contract.

“Let’s bid out the contract and see what we can save,” said Rev. Gary Cordon, a reference perhaps to a reported two to seven percent increase Waste Industries is reportedly seeking with the new deal. “Wise men differ, but fools fall out; let’s try to keep democracy going.”

At one point, speakers challenged a media report that the public hearing was to have been on curbside pick-up, but County Manager Scott Sauer said that had been erroneously reported, and that an earlier printed announcement made the correct reference to the hearing being on renewal of the contract.

“I think the Board members are misleading the people,” declared Monica Lassiter of Lewiston-Woodville. “If they’re misleading the people then they can’t be trusted,” she added, seeming to direct her remarks at all five commissioners.

When the public speakers who signed up to speak were done Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson took the floor and began with what he believed would be an effort to clear the air about the county’s trash disposal and the Board’s position.

“The Commissioners voted six months ago to curb curbside,” Wesson said. “You told us, and we heard you; but that message isn’t the one that’s getting out. There are issues in the new (convenience sites) contract that need to be addressed, but there are people in the county trying to divide us.”

Several speakers from the audience challenged Wesson, but the biggest challenge to his remarks came from outgoing, and fellow Commissioner, Rick Harrell.

“There was no vote on (tabling) curbside,” Harrell said. “I didn’t vote on it.  Chairman Perry tabled the issue.  We voted at our first September meeting to have this public hearing and Commissioners Wesson and (John) Trent voted against it.  Only the Chairman (Perry) has the power to table this issue.”

Harrell went on to say the Commissioners did discuss curbside trash pick-up at their winter retreat.

“Curbside did come up, but now we need to decided on a new (convenience sites) contract because we’ve never had a six-year contract before,” Harrell said. “If curbside was dead, then why are we here?”

Harrell, who leaves office when his term expires this fall, also used his remarks to thank the citizens for his 16 years of service to the county as a Commissioner.

Davis rose once more, saying he wanted to clarify his remarks, and Wesson stood and challenged Harrell on whether the curbside issue was dead, or merely tabled.

“We voted on this, didn’t we Mr. Chairman,” Wesson implored.

Instead, Perry said no, a vote had not been taken, sending the crowd into a gale of laughter, and leaving Wesson somewhat exasperated as if he had not expected the Chairman’s reply.

“We want to do what the people want,” Perry declared.

One other citizen, Tim Phelps, spoke at the podium, and he stated that there were more pressing issues the Commissioners and the citizens ought to consider.

“Stop bringing stuff up,” Phelps scolded the gathering.

After Gary Terry made a declaration that the Commissioner’s meetings should be broadcast live and the proceedings retained for public scrutiny, Perry thanked everyone who attended for the citizen input and pledged a decision on extending the contract for the convenience sites as soon as possible.