The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, November 24, 2021 1:00 am

Investigation of Red River gets approval

1st step: Subpoena of trash hauler

DEVAN FILCHAK | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne City Council is officially investigating Red River Waste Solutions, the city's trash hauling contractor who filed bankruptcy in October.

City Council members have been concerned about the reliability of the trash service since almost the start of the Fort Wayne's seven-year contract with Red River Waste Solutions. Because Red River is trying to reorganize through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it can decide whether to continue trash service to the city or transfer the contract to another trash company.

Red River CEO James Smith was invited to attend the Nov. 16 City Council meeting but did not show up or respond to the invitation. Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, told his colleagues then that he was working on a resolution to open an investigation.

City Council approved a resolution Tuesday that states “the intention to utilize the investigatory powers of the legislative body.” Jehl said he thinks it is important for the council members to use one tool they have to get answers from Red River.

“We've asked very politely once what their intentions are,” Jehl said, “and now this is the gateway to asking forcefully.”

Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, asked the first question of the discussion: Will the legal costs be minimal?

Joe Bonahoom, City Council attorney, said as a general rule, legal costs are never minimal.

The case will need to be taken to court if the subpoena is ignored, Bonahoom said, and there will be many procedural hoops to jump through.

The council will also need to make sure to give a reasonable amount of notice for when the party is to appear. Red River's counsel will likely object to a Red River representative testifying in a public place about matters that could be confidential through bankruptcy court.

Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, D-at large, said she doesn't think the members would be making the best use of taxpayer money with the investigation. The city administration is doing everything it can, she said, to ensure trash services continue.

Ensley said the legal costs would first be capped at the $60,000 the council annually has for legal actions. If the council wants to spend more on legal services, it would have to be discussed and approved at a future meeting.

Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said he supports opening the investigation because a subpoena can be sent at a low cost, but he isn't sure he would support a “lengthy lawsuit.”

The resolution received the five votes of support it needed to be passed with Chambers being the only member to vote in opposition. Council members Jason Arp, R-4th, Sharon Tucker, D-6th and Glynn Hines, D-at large, were absent.

In other business, City Council didn't pass the acquisition of the Allen County Regional Water and Sewer District by Fort Wayne City Utilities. The council tabled the request Nov. 16 in hopes City Utilities would consider a board dominant with county representatives since it serves county residents.

The request was before the members for the second time Tuesday and failed to pass in the committee session. During the regular meeting, Jehl suggested the request be tabled again so it can be approved at a special meeting Dec. 7 if members agree with the sewer district board's representation.

Kumar Menon, City Utilities director, said the board must remain dominant with city representatives because the city will have taken on the sewer district's debt and will manage all customers' sewer services.

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