Council dumps no-bid deal for City Carting bulky waste pickup

Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord
Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord speaks with the Public Works Committee Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk will put a proposed bulky waste pickup out to bid against the wishes of Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord, even if Common Council members acknowledge the city may spend more money as a result.

Alvord had proposed amending the contract with City Carting to allow the company to pick up bulky waste on a series of Saturdays along its regular routes, at a maximum cost of $46,750. Members of the Public Works Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to table the motion.

“If you want to pay more, absolutely, let’s put it out to bid,” Alvord said.

Asked about that comment, Alvord said, “I negotiated this with City Carting based on what I know their labor rates are, what the crew size would be in each area and what the tipping fee would be for the anticipated tonnage up to a limit of 100 tons. So we can put it out to bid. I will just tell you that it’s going to come in much higher than what we negotiated.”

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) replied, first by mentioning that he has served on many of the city’s audit committees in the past, including when he was a Board of Education member.

“It’s always a good idea to not to be that close with the vendors that work with the city over a period of time. Periodically you need to go out to bid. In the long run you end up saving money that way,” he said. “… It’s not something that the auditors look fondly upon, that you set up these relationships and then you continue with them. It cost the city a lot of money when it came to food services for the schools, transportation for our schools. They have since changed our policies. I think generally, as a rule of thumb, it’s not a bad idea to go out to bid. If it turns out it costs us a little more money in the short run, so be it. I think it’s just the better approach.”

The issue is tied in some council members’ minds to a proposal to stop allowing Norwalkers to dump one ton free at the transfer station. Alvord said last month that Norwalk is the only municipality that he knows of that does this, that it was causing problems with the computer operating system at the transfer station as software was being forced to do something it is not designed to do. Board of Estimate and Taxation member Anne Yang-Dwyer has also been pushing to raise fees so that the people who uses services pay for services instead of everyone paying for them through taxes.

That proposal was also tabled.

Alvord said the bulky waste pickup would be delayed far more than a month. The request for bids must go through the purchasing department and follow strict regulations, he said. Then there will be pre-bid meetings and time for bids to come in. A new offer probably won’t be delivered to the committee until September, he said.

“The unfair part now is everybody out there knows what City Carting’s bid is going to be,” he said.

Another issue was that only Fourth Taxing District residents would be eligible for the pickups. Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) asked Alvord if he could get a price that would include all residents, even though it would “cost a heck of a lot more.”

“By code, sanitation can only be provided to Fourth District,” Alvord said.

The solution to that would be to write a new ordinance, which council members agreed would open up a can of worms and be another lengthy process.

Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said the public doesn’t approve of these “no-bid” issues, referring to a recent vote to allow City Carting to purchase and install new trash compactors at the transfer station. Kimmel and Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) said they agreed in general, but not on the specifics of the trash compactor issue.

Alvord asserted the honesty of his proposal at the end of the meeting, in response to Watts.

“When I believe that my knowledge or the knowledge of my staff and the experience of my staff suggests that we can negotiate the better price for a piece of work than if we put it out to competitive bid, then that’s way we’re going to go and we’re going to bring you that proposal,” Alvord said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t like the contractor or you think we’re in bed with somebody, tell us to go out to competitive bid. What I’m telling you is I’m not going to bring you something that I think is more expensive than if I had done it a different way. So I brought you this thing on bulky waste because we do it by daily pickup routes of garbage. There’s only one company that knows those daily routes and are going to use the same drivers to do that work to do the bulky waste pickup.”

“I’m not going to go that far to say you are in bed with somebody, Watts replied. “That would be a personal attack and that’s not why we’re here. I think that what people expect that when vendors do business with the city the process is open and transparent and everyone expects that when people do business with the city it has been put out to bid. And once it’s put out to bid it’s the best deal for the city. If you go to the people too many times saying that ‘it’s just easier,’ or ‘I’m using my judgment,’ that ‘I can continue to use the same vendors over and over again because it’s going to give me the best deal,’ or ‘the city doesn’t have the capability’ – You know what? How about we do this. Let’s just in the future say that Hal you’re a good man and you’re a professional and I don’t want to accuse you of anything. I just think that the people expect that you do business in an open and transparent way. Not to say you don’t do something in an open and transparent way, that’s just the expectation.”


27 responses to “Council dumps no-bid deal for City Carting bulky waste pickup”

  1. John Hamlin

    Unbelievable. The dysfunction in our city government is astonishing. It’s like watching a Keystone Kops episode. But it’s really the fault of the system as it’s set up. Isn’t it time we totally revised the city charter so we have a strong mayor who is accountable for the operation of the city and it’s departments instead of a non-accountable so-called “strong” council that manages nothing and gets nothing done? I suppose there are those who want a municipal government that’s totally ineffective and dysfunctional who would favor the status quo.

  2. Mike Mushak

    Councilmen Bruce Kimmel and David Watts both make excellent points here. The assumption here is that we have to trust Hal Alvord to be making the best decisions with our taxpayer money, which the record doesn’t always bear out happens.
    The sidewalk issue on Dry Hill Rd., discussed in another article on NON this morning, is a classic case in point where “just trust us, we know what’s best” backfired in a secretive and irrational decision-making process, where as David Watts says, the city “picks winners and losers”. That is exactly what happened on Dry Hill Rd, where the city replaced at taxpayer expense the sidewalks for about 60 properties in a mile long renovation of the road, but left out 6 or so properties nearest to Westport Ave at the southern end of the road. The city defied its own rules here, using expensive concrete for several homeowners outside the so-called “urban core” line, and asphalt inside the urban core line where supposedly only concrete is supposed to be used. The city is now telling the 6 homeowners left out of the process that if they want new sidewalks, they have to pay for them themselves, and they have to be expensive concrete, not asphalt, even though the city used asphalt to make brand new patches on the very same properties!
    The absurdity is astounding, not just on Dry Hill with the unfair approach to sidewalk replacement, but also most recently on Strawberry Hill with the badly designed bike lanes that puts children’s lives at risk in front of 3 schools, on Rowayton Ave with the $3 million boondoggle of a project that does not fix anything that was wrong to begin with (and which Alvord and McCarthy say will only cost Norwalk taxpayers $6,000 at the same time the city is paying for full time engineering supervision and promising extensive landscaping to replace the removal of dozens of mature trees, all miraculously for “less than $6k”), on the East Ave project that Hal Alvord told two council members and the mayor that engineering drawings did not exist that he had in his office all along but just didn’t want to show anyone so he could spring them on the public later on and say it’s too late to change them (for a project the community is alarmed about on many levels), and recently pretending our wastewater treatment plant is “award-winning” while under state decree to fix problems that led to the dumping of raw sewage into the precious harbor 28 times in 2010 alone, closing shellfish beds impacting our huge boating and oyster industries. He called folks concerned about this last item and who had requested a public hearing last year “irresponsible”.

    Oh, let’s not forget the trash issue again. In this meeting, I described what City Carting has done since switching to the automated recycling collection of the large blue bins. I applaud the bins and the single stream recycling, but City Carting only has one man on each truck instead of two so they can make more money, and as a result they leave trash scattered around the streets and lawns of our neighborhood and all over the city every week, as they rush to get the job done under their own irrational schedule (according to insiders). They also try to continue to load trucks that are already full as happened yesterday in from of my house, resulting in a shattered glass bottle into tiny shards right in my driveway where I walk my dog, and scattered crushed milk jugs etc. This occurred all down my street, and I have taken pictures and complained in the past with no results or improvement. I get to spend every garbage day picking up trash in front of my house and my neighborhood that City Carting trucks leave behind, which never happened before the big switch over to them couple of years ago. Is it any wonder our city is so blighted and trash-filled when the private contractor Hal Alvord and Dave McCarthy pushed for in a fit of outsourcing fever is now cutting corners and leaving more trash on our streets than they found?

    But as Hal Alvord says, “just trust me, I know what’s best.” As Abe Lincoln said, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

  3. So, when WILL Rilling get rid of and fire Alvord’s “butt”??
    If he can’t or won’t, then we may as well stop complaining about him.

  4. Suzanne

    “What I’m telling you is I’m not going to bring you something that I think is more expensive than if I had done it a different way.” Hal Alvord. Perhaps what Mr. Alvord believes he is doing is good management. However, he is forgetting who he works for and that would be us. There are no unilateral decisions in government for the most part and certainly no picking and choosing of who should receive a public service based on sewer lines as opposed to all taxpayers paying into a large kitty. Doesn’t Norwalk require of all bids a competitive contract and a proposal process that is open and available to all citizenry as well as to those who could provide the service? If not, it is not an open and transparent government as Mr. Watts describes. And, since when does Mr. Alvord follow the tactics of Mr. McCarthy, an unpaid Councilperson (o.k, there is a stipend provided) instead of what the City says is appropriate? Why would Mr. Alford, as a paid employee of the City, not be leading the process within Norwalk City regulations? City Carting has been in a heck of a lot of hot water prior to its contract with the City of Norwalk. http://westchesterguardian.blogspot.com/2007/10/fbi-probe-into-mt.html No-bid contracts for any additional service based on their prior suspect activities should be disallowed. If Mr. Alvord thinks they will provide the services more cheaply then anyone else, he has a duty to prove it to the people of Norwalk through the bid process. If that is not easy enough for him, then he needs to find a job outside of government where unilateral decisions are not paid for by city taxpayers.

  5. anon

    Alvord brought in outsourcing and saved taxpayers money. Much of this back and forth seems to be due to union unhappiness.

  6. M. Murray’s

    I’m not sure how a competitive would not be cheaper now. Everyone knows what City Carting is willing to do it for. Someone will obviously bid less. Whether they can perform the task is the question

  7. Ms Ruby McPherson

    Why should this go out to bid. I remember when South Norwalk had t bulky waste clean ups, Ernie Dumas, Don Nelson back then, David Shockly, volunteers with trucks and a little overtime for DPW guys they made it happen. So especially now since trash pickup was taken away from them, I think the taxpayer would rather see the city guys take this on.

  8. peter parker

    It’s simple, all contracts should go to bid, a no brainer, and the charter requires it. Alvord thinks he can do whatever he likes. Again I ask, when will this Mayor do something about Alvord’s conduct? Alvord does not have a contract and serves at the will of the Mayor. Are they both getting something from these no bid deals? One has to wonder what’s really going on here?

  9. Dennis DiManis

    I can’t imagine why negotiation with one single vendor would yield a lower price than competitive bidding.

  10. Oldtimer

    NO-BID deals are a red flag, and a violation of the City’s code.

  11. One and Done.

    It always amazes me how many people think Alvord has an unlimited budget and available resources to do every little pet project everyone wants done.
    This deal went south because of the unions. That is Watts only motivation.
    One and Done.

  12. Suzanne

    This isn’t a pet project to which these commentators refer. Rather, it is apparently a service that Mr. Alvord brought before the Committee solely by him and no one else. He decided, outside City common practice and every other government entity I have heard of, to go with a no-bid contract. There is a reason for that process that just might save Mr. Alvord some money: obtaining the least expensive price for the same, specified service. In addition, it is absolutely suspect that these types of contracts have been sent over to City Carting or requested for City Carting by Mr. Alvord – no bid means City Carting, in spite of their being banned from New York City to do business and have been investigated by Westchester County for their dubious ties, have carte blanche to set whatever price they want. How do we know it is the best price? Go through the correct process, Mr. Alvord, and put this issue to rest.

  13. Ryan

    City Carting has never taken advantage of Norwalk that I can see. To redspond to Mike’s comments above if he was so astute he would realize that there has always been one man on the truck. If he is having collection issues he should call City Hall Customer Service, they will correct it.

  14. Mia

    Where I live in Norwalk – since recycling has gone to one large bin there are always three people on the truck. The driver and the two workers – one for each side of the street – who actually dump the bins.
    Maybe someone here knows why the city seems to have almost stopped doing yard waste pick ups. There are only 3 pick ups for all of 2014. One in May – and the next one is not until Nov. What is the cost to the city in having more pick ups? The workers are being paid by the city already and Norwalk has the trucks – forcing people to bring their own bags to the yard waste site is ridiculous. Tax payers deserve this as a service.

  15. Don’t Panic

    This isn’t a straight up “no-bid” contract in the usual sense. Mr. Alvord has proposed amending an existing contract to include this service, on the theory that it would produce the cheapest and best service. What has happened though, is that the well is now poisoned for a true competitive bid, because City Carting’s “bid” is now public. For an amount this small this might ordinarily be a shrewd move, but City Carting is, in its initial contract period under scrutiny for producing the kinds of savings that were used to justify outsourcing in the first place, and adding services willy-nilly is going to prevent that evaluation from being taken accurately.
    Also, why was this not included in the original contract negotiation? If it had been, then the current city employees would have been able to “bid” on the whole package of service back when this decision was made. Adding this on after this department of unionized workers was disbanded denied them that abiity.

  16. Peter Parker

    It all goes back to poor planning by dumb as a fox Alvord. He knows just what he is doing and the council and the Mayor are doing nothing to stop him. It is very sad.

  17. Peter Parker

    Alvord said, “I negotiated this with City Carting based on what I know their labor rates are, what the crew size would be in each area and what the tipping fee would be for the anticipated tonnage up to a limit of 100 tons.

    Who authorized Alvord to negotiate anything. There is a bid process for every contract in the City. Basically Alvord negotiated with total disregard for the Charter mandated bid process. He should be fired! Hello Mayor Rilling are reading or are you at another photo shoot?

  18. Oldtimer

    Anybody ever see any real savings, or are you taking Alvord and McCarthy’s word for big savings ?

  19. Suzanne

    Don’t Panic, well said. Thank you for the clarification. Nice to read a cool head in the midst of all the outrage.

  20. TG

    I have to agree with Mike Mushak on the issues he listed. One of the most frustrating things is to see projects done piecemeal and which appear to have been done willy nilly and without a solid plan in place. To many of us, these appear to have little value in functionality relative to cost/time spent. Or, in worse cases, leave a situation worse- as in Strawberry Hill. Also, it does seem, when you read articles like this one and those on the NPS recycling system, that nothing gets accomplished in Norwalk. How hard can some of these decisions be? For example, if Norwalk is indeed the only municipality allowing for a free ton of dumping, why does that issue have to her tabled? Maybe I’m naive but it seems like a no-brainer to me. Why require every taxpayer to pay for a service they are not all using? One ton is an awfully generous amount. We all might be a little more careful about what we chuck if we had to pay for that service as opposed to letting the entire tax base absorb it.

  21. Norewalk Lifer

    Mr. Alvord has no right nor no jurisdiction to commit city funding to any service.

    He has no right to circumvent the normal way of working in a competitive atmosphere, and his comment about paying more for this service! he should be removed immediately.

    He should of thought of the consequence of this action BEFORE he took it! he created the non competitiveness of this situation WHEN he decided without any council to negotiate a no bid contract.

    Obviously, he may be astute in matters of city sanitation, BUT he is not a contract administrator, and the mayor should remind him of this.

    I would argue that the Mayor should spend some time with city workers AND his personnel department to roll out an understanding of roles and responsibilities: the character assassination of Karen Lyons for doing her job as defined by state election rules and the city job description should have been enough evidence.

    But here you have a clear violation of the standards of contract administration; this happens way too often in Norwalk,

    It should be stopped now, and the city council is obviously “weak” in their ability to control and understand situations like this; I would think the familiarity is breeding higher costs for the rest of us here in Norwalk.

    Norwalk Lifer

  22. Suzanne

    Norwalk Lifer, Another salient comment elucidating further reasons why people performing processes, especially contracts, in Norwalk need a re-vamp. Thank you.

  23. LWitherspoon

    Reading this thread, it’s hard to distinguish between lingering union resentment over outsourcing and legitimate concerns over saving money for taxpayers.
    It’s true that there are cases where one vendor can perform a service far less expensively than others due to other business that vendor already has. The marginal cost for that vendor of providing additional service is far lower than it would be for anyone else. In such a situation the best move may well be to learn everything you can about the vendor’s cost structure and negotiate the best price you can. Still, it’s important to bend over backwards to avoid the appearance of a conflict, especially after the trash compactor purchase. Particularly in an environment where municipal employee unions and the politicians who serve them (e.g. David Watts) seek to paint City Carting in a negative light for their own personal benefit.
    I agree with Panic that it’s not right that City Carting’s bid has been revealed to their competitors, potentially eliminating the benefits of blind competition that arise from putting a contract out to bid. Would anything have prevented Mr. Alvord from informally discussing the proposal with the leaders of each caucus before revealing City Carting’s bid to the public?
    I find it odd that Councilman David Watts brought up and criticized the recent approval of new trash compactors, since he himself voted to approve the purchase! If it was wrong, why did Mr. Watts vote for it?

  24. Suzanne

    “Would anything have prevented Mr. Alvord from informally discussing the proposal with the leaders of each caucus before revealing City Carting’s bid to the public?”
    What a good idea! How long has Mr. Alvord been in his job? How many times has he been involved in procurement, in negotiating contracts?
    Either way, Mr. Alvord, with all of his years in the position that he is in, did not follow the proper procedure on behalf of the taxpayers to get the best price possible for specified work by using a defined bidding system.
    Mr. Alvord does not own Public Works. If he were the boss of a private company, he could do all of the unilateral decision making he wants. However, our taxes pay for his salary and his services first. His lack of perception of this fact seems to constantly affect his performance on our behalf.
    We will never know whether our taxpayer dollars will have been spent wisely or based on a no-bid City Carting dollar amount because Mr. Alvord doesn’t apparently know how to follow basic tenets of his position.
    That has nothing to do with Mr. Watts nor “lingering union resentment.”

  25. Ryan

    Cant wait to see how much more ths is going to cost.

  26. I don’t know why people are continuing to complain about alvord – it is clear that the mayor still isn’t going to do his job and fire him.
    The writing is on the wall, folks – Rilling will not fire Alvord.
    Rilling will continue to avoid being responsible to the people who elected him in to make these changes.
    Ha! Doesn’t everyone feel duped by Rilling, yet?

  27. Now I am going to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming over again to read more news.

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