THE INVESTIGATORS: Republic Services dumps thousands into political campaign funds amid ongoing garbage complaints
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As complaints continue to pour in against Republic Services over missed garbage pickups, the 9News Investigators have learned the company has dumped thousands of dollars into local political campaigns for years.
Some customers now have questions about the company’s relationship with local politicians as their complaints continue to stack up.
Louie Brown said something stinks and it’s not just the garbage piled up outside his home and down the street.
“Garbage pickup has been very sporadic,” said Brown. “Sometimes, a week will go by with no garbage pickup and we’re getting concerned.”
Brown said he and his neighbors along Gloria Drive in Baton Rouge are fed up with Republic Services for missing routes. It’s not a new problem and he believes it is getting worse.
“When you call in, you get a very soft response. It’s nothing positive like it’s going to be improved or we’ll see what the problem is. A quick fix is usually all we get,” added Brown.
Kelvin Hill, assistant Chief Administrative Officer for East Baton Rouge, closely monitors the contract between the city-parish and Republic Services. He said the company has faced a number of challenges related to the latest surge of COVID.
“Republic has seen probably close to 15 to 20 percent of their drivers out at any given time because of COVID-19,” said Hill.
Hill added a lot of the recent delays can be blamed on the Delta variant of COVID-19. On top of that, he said the amount of garbage they’re seeing on the streets is growing. To manage it, Hill said Republic Services has done several things like boost the number of drivers it has, re-worked some of the routes to make them more efficient, and bring in extra trucks to help out. Even with those additional steps, the complaints are still pouring in.
In July, 311 call data shows 982 people called to complain about garbage pickup and back in June, 1,038 calls flooded in. Hill was asked if Republic Services has faced any financial consequences because of the complaints.
“There are really no financial consequences in our contract with them and there are no penalties, per se, for performance,” explained HIll.
East Baton Rouge leaders want to be clear. They say Republic Services has not faced any penalties because that is not how their contract works. The city can collect what’s called liquidated damages from the company but it’s a process and leaders told WAFB the problems have not reached that level.
“The liquidated damages can only occur if there’s significant and substantial damages that’s unrecoverable to the city-parish. We really haven’t had a situation where we’ve had a breach of contract so to speak,” noted Hill.
Republic Services holds one of the largest contracts with the city-parish. In 2023, EBR Metro Council members will have to decide whether to extend the agreement. After so many folks have complained, the 9News Investigators followed the money. According to campaign finance records, Republic Services dumped more than $17,000 in campaign contributions into the 2020 election. The money was split between Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, mayoral candidate Matt Watson, and every single current EBR council member except Councilwoman Chauna Banks and Mayor Pro Tem Lamont Cole.
Since the 2016 election, the same records reveal Republic Services has donated more than $39,000 to local politicians.
Here’s a breakdown of the campaign contributions from Republic Services to East Baton Rouge politicians since 2016.
“It borders on being a little shady and our public servants shouldn’t be able to be bought,” said Brown.
Customers are not the only people who have questions about it. Local attorney, Glen Petersen, said those questions are natural given the circumstances.
“If there are political contributions being made, then questions automatically arise as to whether that’s influencing the actions of number one, the company itself and number two, actions on the part of the city-parish or inaction as the case may be,” said Petersen.
Petersen said it raises a red flag when a company that has a contract with the city is also pumping cash into local campaigns.
“It certainly brings to the surface the question of transparency,” added Petersen.
Darryl Gissel, Chief Administrative Officer with East Baton Rouge, said those campaign contributions from Republic Services do not matter at all. In fact, he said it is common for businesses to throw money behind certain candidates.
“There is no preferential treatment for a contractor within city-parish government,” said Gissel. “It’s not anything the mayor would accept. I think if you look at the contribution list for every political candidate, you have business people all over who make contributions.”
Gissel pointed to campaign finance laws, which he believes are very clear in how contributions have to be reported and documented. He added that there are very tight regulations on how the money flows from businesses to any given candidate.
If the campaign money given from Republic Services does not matter, the 9News Investigators questioned the company on why the donations are happening at all.
A spokesperson for Republic Services issued the following statement in response to that inquiry:
Because some of those candidates Republic Services donated money to have to vote on whether to renew their contract when the time comes, WAFB wanted to know if that money might sway their decision. Leaders with the city-parish said the answers is no. They said the parish follows state bid law when introducing a contract and local politicians cannot really influence that decision just because they got money from a certain company.
“When that contract comes to the council, they’re just approving the low bid with a yes or no, so it’s really not them selecting the contractor per se. The contractor is really selected by the bid process,” said Hill.
“I think people can always be skeptical of those things but, as Kelvin said, the bid law in many cases makes city government slow down and those things are there to make sure those types of things can’t happen,” added Gissel.
At the end of the day, most folks just want to know that their garbage is picked up on time, every time. Leaders with the city-parish said while there is always room for improvement, they are doing everything they can to deliver.
“Do we wish their performance was better? Sure we do. Are they doing all they can? Sure they are. Is it enough for some people? No, it’s not. We understand that and we will continue to work hard to ensure that those basic services that people expect are delivered,” said Hill
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