Was Villarreal For the Trash Contract Before He was Against It? You decide
SAN ANGELO, TX — During a mayoral candidates' forum, held in conjunction with the monthly meeting of the San Angelo Pachyderm Club Wednesday afternoon at Zentner's Daughter Steakhouse, the topic of discussion turned to mayoral candidate Tony Villarreal, who has changed his views on San Angelo's Republic Services contract over the past years. Or has he?
Republic's trash contract has met loud criticism for its costs and service levels. In particular, many have expressed concerns over the high commercial trash rates since the contract was enacted in August 2014.
The issue was thrust into the forum by city council Single Member District 4 candidate, Chris Giroux, during the question and answer period.
Giroux asked Villarreal, “At the April 1, 2014 city council meeting, you came out strong in favor of the city council decision to do the contract with Republic Services. Then all of a sudden at the forum the Homebuilders had for the mayoral candidates a few weeks ago, you came out against the trash contract. Can you explain why you changed your mind?”
Here is Villarreal’s April 2014 speech praising Republic Services:
Has Villarreal since changed his mind?
In his question, Giroux also referenced Villarreal's headline-making declaration last week, when he said the City of San Angelo should create an open market for commercial trash. Listen here:
Doing so will require major modifications to the current trash deal. The residential pricing and the millions of dollars Republic Services agreed to pay the City upfront are predicated upon Republic enjoying an exclusive franchise within the city limits.
Villarreal denied changing his stand on Republic Services since April 2014. Yesterday he said:
“I haven’t changed my mind. Back when they asked me to speak on their behalf about the experiences and relationships we had as a previous mayor and county commissioner in Pecos County in Fort Stockton. It (Republic Services) used to be Duncan Services and they had a great relationship (in Fort Stockton), and they asked me to speak on that. That experience was always a positive experience. I think that the services they provided to our citizens, at the time that we used their services, were very much in favor of and benefitted all of our citizens.
“I came out against them because I disagree with the part of the contract where they have an exclusive (to collect trash). And I talked to them directly, and they know my feelings on that. I don’t agree with it. I think it should be an open market, I think it should be open to where competition makes a difference. And that’s something that I will pursue if elected mayor…. So it hasn’t been a change (of position). I know you can turn around and make it look like that, but it hasn’t. My stand remains the same.”
LIVE! asked Villarreal a followup question. Will Villarreal’s quest for an open market for trash hauling within the city limits incorporate both commercial and residential trash collection, or just be for the commercial side?
“Having gone through the contract, there’s a lot of room to negotiate, I believe. There are areas that we can go into and see what’s best for our citizens. That’s what I’m looking for, to give us the best options. What works best for our citizens? And I think they (Republic) as a corporate partner to our citizens of San Angelo, they should be open to that. [We should] have those discussions in an open forum where we all can have input on it. So, I want to do that.”
Villarreal’s opponent Brenda Gunter hasn’t been as vocal about the trash contract since Villarreal made headlines calling for an open market. LIVE! Asked her if she was for doing something about the extraordinary high trash bills San Angelo businesses are enduring.
“Number one, I believe all politics are local and I don’t believe we need senators and representatives getting involved in our politics,” Gunter said, referring to Villarreal’s statement at the HBA forum that he was already working with staffers at a state senator’s office to help him modify the trash contract.
“I believe in the commercial side of the trash contract there is room for change. We found out that for our residential customers there was room for change there,” Gunter said.
“My strategy would be to do the same thing with commercial (trash pickup). There are people very unhappy with it. We need to find a solution for that. [One that] better serves our business community,” Gunter said.
In 2016, the City renegotiated major components of the residential trash pickup portion of the trash contract. Republic reduced by half its recyclable pickup days and increased its bulk pickup from quarterly to bi-monthly. Gunter said she wants to pursue similar renegotiations with Republic on commercial rates, which are as much as 183 percent of the rates in comparable west Texas cities. Gunter used construction waste pickup rates as an example of how higher commercial trash rates are a drag on the local economy.