Republic Services performed an aggressive robocall campaign upon the citizens and businesses of Mertzon prior to that city government’s council’s vote to choose a trash collection vendor. Mertzon is a small west Texas town about 20 miles west of San Angelo on U.S. 67 and the county seat for Irion County with just under 300 trash collection points.
A robocall is a computer-generated phone call often employed by political campaigns during the election season. Republic’s robocalls urged residents to call their city councilperson and urge him or her reject their to-be-signed contract with Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) so that residents can enjoy Republic’s new, lower pricing for that city’s trash collection contract.
Mertzon City Councilman Jim Rose holds court in the backroom of the popular Nicholson’s Meat Company. Friends and associates gathered there Monday afternoon recall the three days of Republic’s robocalls. Danita Walston, co-owner of Nicholson’s with her husband Lee, said she received five to seven calls. Husband Lee said that the store itself received many calls. “I recorded it,” he said. But couldn’t find the recording on the store answering machine.
The consensus around the room was that competition was good. Until TDS came to town to offer competition, Republic’s rates were generally non-standardized and much higher. “All of a sudden, after charging me so much over all these years, we find out that [Republic] really can charge just half?” one resident said.
The Mertzon trash battle was a prelude to the City of San Angelo’s upcoming competitive bid for trash collection and landfill management services. In October, the City of San Angelo agreed to publish a request for proposals (RFP) for trash collection services and landfill management.
Meanwhile, in late November, the City of Mertzon city council voted to enter into negotiations with Texas Disposal Systems to arrange a citywide pickup of trash. Before the contract was to be signed and ratified, TDS’s rival Republic Services caught word of the negotiations and proceeded to court the citizens by offering rates that undercut TDS’s pricing. A few days before the council vote to agree to sign the contract with TDS is when the aggressive Republic robocall campaign began. It lasted approximately three days, residents say, with three to six calls per resident per day, according to an informal census taken around town.
In addition to employing robocalls, Mertzon citizens said Republic papered the town with 8.5 in. x 11 in. flyers with each city council person’s phone number printed on it to urge citizens to lobby their city representative to favor Republic.
“What was worse than putting all of our phone numbers on [the flyers], Republic put all these flyers out through the center of Mertzon, missed whole big neighborhoods, put them on all of the houses in Sherwood, [whose residents] didn’t care what our council was doing. And a lot of them got caught up on fences of our ranches outside of town. So they didn’t even care where our city is,” Mertzon City Councilwoman Carol Shaw said.
Shaw says she received many calls from constituents. But they citizens weren’t calling her to urge her to dismiss TDS in order to choose Republic. Instead, the constituents wanted to know what her opinion was on the choice between Republic and TDS.
Mertzon’s city council rejected Republic Services’ overture Dec. 9 and held firm to vote to sign the contract with Texas Disposal Systems. Councilman Rose said he was the lone dissenter who didn’t support the TDS contract. “I saw the Republic bid. They were cutting TDS’s throat on price. I wanted to see if TDS would match Republic’s bid,” he said. When TDS wouldn’t budge, Rose said, he abstained.
Shane Kelton, operations director for the City of San Angelo anticipates the city’s RFP will be published by mid-January 2014. Republic Services currently holds the contract for trash collection and landfill management for the City of San Angelo. Republic and TDS are both expected to compete for that contract.