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Money in garbage: Who’s funding each side of the St. Paul trash vote

trash lawn sign
MinnPost photo by Caroline Schwenz
In advance of the vote, the political committee St. Paul Trash Lawsuit started printing lawn signs and flyers in order to bring people into the “no” camp.

The two main groups seeking to sway voters in St. Paul’s trash debate have spent thousands of dollars on flyers, ads, polls and yard signs, according to campaign finance reports filed, most recently this week, with Ramsey County.

On Tuesday, November 5, voters will decide whether to keep the city’s recently adopted city-coordinated trash collection or repeal the ordinance (MinnPost’s Jessica Lee has a rundown of the debate here).

Earlier this year, a group opposed to an ordinance bringing trash collection under city control sued St. Paul, arguing the city should recognize its petition to put the trash matter to a public vote. A judge ruled in their favor, landing the question on the ballot.

In advance of the vote, the group’s political committee started printing lawn signs and flyers in order to bring people into the “no” camp.

In late September, a group supporting the city ordinance popped up, spending to try to convince people to vote “yes.”

So who’s behind these groups and what are they spending money on?

Behind ‘vote no’

St. Paul Trash Lawsuit, the committee spending to try to defeat city-coordinated trash collection, has spent a total of $20,944  this year. $13,700 of that amount went toward legal fees in its lawsuit against the city.

Colleen Halpine, the chair of the committee, is a St. Paul resident. Peter Butler, the secretary/treasurer, was a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city.

This year, Grand Ole Creamery, the ice cream shop on Grand Avenue owned by Gary Huffman (also a donor) has given $1,500; MN Financial Management Corp. in Bloomington gave $1,000; J&S Bean Factory, a coffee shop on Randolph, gave $825; Stonewood Investments in St. Paul gave $200 and the Groomsmen, Inc. in Minneapolis gave $200. Mancini’s Char House gave $350 in appetizers as an in-kind contribution.

The Trash Lawsuit group itemized only receipts and expenditures over $100, interpreting a St. Paul ordinance that requires political committees to report anything over $50 as not applicable to groups raising and spending on a ballot initiative (in state law, the cutoff is $100).

Besides legal fees, how are they spending the money? The group spent $2,255 on flyers and stickers and $4,238 on lawn signs.

Butler told MinnPost the Trash Lawsuit group has been handing out flyers and stickers throughout the city, in addition to distributing lawn signs that promote its position.

At the end of the reporting period, October 17, the group had $7,111 on hand.

Butler said he feels good about the upcoming election.

“I feel I run into many people who are going to be voting “no.” It’s not just because I am on the Facebook page for vote no and only see that side of it,” he said. “People I know through church or friends of friends (say they’re voting no). I don’t run into too many of the yes people.”

Between competitive council races and the trash vote, Butler predicts turnout could surpass 60,000 — about double the turnout in usual council-race years.

Behind ‘vote yes’

The names behind the committee trying to preserve the city’s organized trash collection system, called Yes for St. Paul, are committee chair Javier Morillo-Alicea, the former SEIU Local 26 president and a longtime activist, and treasurer/secretary Darren Tobolt, both of St. Paul. The group has raised $16,408 and spent $9,622 so far.

The group has the backing of several labor union PACs: $1,500 from the PAC associated with St. Paul Fire Fighters Local 21; $1,000 from North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters and $500 from the AFL-CIO St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. AFSCME Council 5 provided $8,300 in-kind.

Why are unions so interested in the issue?

“AFSCME Council 5 knows that an honest city budget is necessary for our members to provide the exceptional city services that residents deserve,” wrote Emily Weber, the union’s communications coordinator, in an emailed statement. “Our members believe that building strong communities for all families — not just our members — is important, and they are willing to invest in projects that build a healthier, more sustainable Minnesota.”

Among the group’s individual donors are deputy mayor Jaime Tincher, city council members Rebecca Noecker and former council member Russ Stark, who works for the mayor’s office. Messerli and Kramer P.A., a law firm, gave $1,000.

Yes for St. Paul spent $8,300 on research, which Tobolt said went to things like a poll and messaging. So far, it’s also spent $1,000 on ads. For example, the group has put the following ads on Facebook:

Yes for St. Paul has spent $1,000 on ads.
Yes for St. Paul has spent $1,000 on ads.
As of the end of the reporting period, Yes for St. Paul  had $6,786 on hand.

ISAIAH, a faith coalition, Sustain St. Paul, which advocates for “community, fiscal and environmental sustainability,”and Zero Waste St. Paul, focused on reducing waste, have been working in support of the efforts, Tobolt said.

“It’s a problem that’s already solved and going back on it is just going to mean that we’re going to keep talking about trash instead of all the other important issues,” he said.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 10/25/2019 - 12:01 pm.

    This issue is reminiscent of the way Zygi Wilf got Minnesota to pay for a new stadium. The voters said no; the DFL said “hush child”.

  2. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 10/25/2019 - 12:13 pm.

    The new trash system has been an implementation disaster. Nevertheless the No vote seems to be made up of many people who were not paying their fair share. I know people who every day bring a small amount of garbage in a bag and drop it off in store or public refuse containers. They are externalizing their costs to the rest of us. It’s time they paid up. We can reform and refine the system later but let’s not re-do this and thereby raise taxes significantly. I’m surprised that the No people don’t understand the costly consequences of voting no.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/25/2019 - 01:36 pm.

      Agree completely. The no people seem to think that voting no will be a magic fix, and that a yes means nothing can be changed. Neither or those things are true.

      • Submitted by Steve Subera on 10/25/2019 - 02:06 pm.

        If the yes vote wins, what is the mechanism for changing the contract when it appears that the haulers can sit tight for four years and keep the contract the same?

        • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 10/25/2019 - 02:24 pm.

          Either way, the taxpayers are going to pay.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/25/2019 - 02:45 pm.

          Well first, if there is a no vote the haulers can also sit tight. The opening of the contract to change payment to property taxes doesn’t give the haulers any incentive to make concessions. If anything, it may entitle them to damages from the City. A no vote accomplishes nothing other than changing how the contact is paid.

          To be honest, I doubt the haulers will make concessions if yes prevails. But I think the City might dip into its resources to give the 2-4 unit housing a break, and to allow cart sharing. And then get that into the next contract.

          • Submitted by Steve Subera on 10/25/2019 - 03:46 pm.

            The idea of the city trying to figure out a way to give the 2-4 unit dwellings a break and allow for cart sharing without changing the contract sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. You might find a very large number of people will figure out that cart sharing saves them money at the expense of the city when they never thought about it in the past.

            If yes prevails, then everything should stay the same unless changes to the contract can be made.

    • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 10/25/2019 - 02:21 pm.

      Everyone I know who is voting NO has been paying their fair share for years. Many of us also support municipal garbage collection. What we oppose is the idiotic way this was implemented. The City got played by Waste Management to give them a sweetheart deal at double the going rate so that they could turn around and buy out the small independent haulers.

      Voting NO is our only hope to trigger the Force Majuere clause in the contract, so the City can start over and come up with a competitive deal that doesn’t take the city residents and taxpayers to the cleaners.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/25/2019 - 02:40 pm.

        Actually, that’s completely wrong. If the City had simply bid out the contract, Waste Management or another big hauler would have won it and it would be a lot cheaper. We are paying more because people wanted to keep the small haulers. The small haulers got the sweetheart deal and then sold out.

        Based on the Supreme Court decision, there is virtually zero chance of the Force Majeure clause being triggered. If the contract was found to be unimpaired by a no vote, then it won’t be found impossible to perform. I know some people are claiming otherwise, but they either don’t know the law or lying.

        • Submitted by Steve Subera on 10/25/2019 - 04:37 pm.

          I’m going to guess that most people didn’t expect the big haulers would buy out the small hauler’s routes when they gave feedback. Did the city or anyone predict this would happen and let people know? The haulers figured it out. I wish the city had.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/25/2019 - 07:26 pm.

            Me too. It never occurred to me, but in hindsight its not a surprise.

            To be clear, even though I’m voting yes, this could have been done a lot better. I think the duplex/triplex/fourplex owners have a legitimate gripe in having to get a can for each unit.

      • Submitted by Pat Thompson on 10/25/2019 - 02:52 pm.

        Interesting… seems like a core of the No voters are people who were sharing carts in the past, so how is that “paying their fair share” for years, when the law said everyone was required to have service by household, even though it wasn’t enforced?

        • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 10/25/2019 - 08:08 pm.

          Our family lives in a building that has 20 units. We share some large containers with others in the building. I like the ability to do that.
          Isn’t an important goal is to reduce the amount of trash we generate? That’s certainly what many people concerned with climate change are promoting.
          If this is a goal, what’s wrong with people who generate very little trash sharing a cart?
          I understand the argument against many trucks (and companies) serving a neighborhood. But I also understand what can happen with a monopoly. The organization with the monopoly can and sometimes does take customers for granted. There are reports from all over the city of trash not being picked up and when customers call the trash company, they are deeply frustrated.

          People are voting no for many reasons.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 10/25/2019 - 06:12 pm.

      What makes you think they’ll be motivated to fix it if the “No” vote does not prevail?

    • Submitted by Ralph Busby on 11/01/2019 - 08:16 am.

      “I’m surprised that the No people don’t understand the costly consequences of voting no.”

      The proposed property tax raise is quite a bit less than what I currently pay for garbage. I would be surprised if it is not less for most home owners. According to this property tax calculator at, your taxes are going up $185 due to the garbage levy if you have an assessed value of $200,000.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/01/2019 - 09:12 am.

        And if you live in an apartment or condo building with 5 or more units, you will get the increase even though you can’t even get the service. If you are saving money, it just means you are being subsidized by people on fixed incomes in retirement homes.

  3. Submitted by James Robins on 10/25/2019 - 04:42 pm.

    Those of us who are voting “no” have listed numerous reasons related to democratic process, an unwillingness by council members to listen to reasonable organizing alternatives offered throughout the process, concerns about anti-competitive practices (the number of haulers have been reduced by two-thirds), environmental concerns, rate-setting that discriminates against the least wasteful users and multi-unit residences… and the list goes on and on. No one believes we can go back to the old way because a majority of the haulers are out of the business. All we can do is change the decision-makers and provide limited remedies to the mistakes that have been made. Many if not most of us support an organized system – if done responsibly with proper public input.

  4. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 10/25/2019 - 11:10 pm.

    In our neighborhood, the change and service has been a double edged deal. The first six months the quality of service was so so and definitely worse than what we had before. Because of the snow the trash trucks would either refuse to go down the alley claiming it was impassable, complaints to the companies lead to nothing being resolved. We had no recycling picked up for four weeks. The recycler claimed the alley was impassable, the garbage truck went down the alley and electric utilities were able to go down the alley, which our neighborhood paid to have plowed and was frequently open before the streets.

    Getting past the service issue, Which has gotten better, it has been nice to have reduced traffic down our alleys. Saint Paul classifies it’s alleys for maintenance in our neighborhood we have a number of alleys that are still gravel. Those alleys were torn up by the garbage trucks in the past, and seem to be a little less beaten up this year.

    Everyone wants their own choice, having said that every hauler that we used was bought up once the plan was implemented.It seems that any change in existing plan what up costing taxpayers a lot, and we already pay to have our alley not plowed by the city, poorly maintained, And rarely serviced or repaired. The thought of having to pay more for that privilege because a few people are upset about their trash hauling seems to be a bit much for me.

    • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 10/27/2019 - 07:21 am.

      A NO vote is not about further increasing the costs to homeowners or to go back to the old system. Voting NO is the ONLY way we can get the city out of the idiotic contract that gave Waste Management, et al, a guaranteed deal for 5 years at double the going rate so that they could buy up all their competitors.

      Voting NO, and voting the council members who pushed thru this deal out of office is a vote against incompetence and a vote for accountability in our local government.

  5. Submitted by Leon Webster on 10/27/2019 - 08:13 am.

    The people urging a ‘no’ vote on trash remind me a lot of the people who supported Brexit. The don’t like current system, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what would replace it. Some folks believe we will revert to the ‘love your trash man’ system that we previously had. Others believe it will lead to municipal trash collection ala Minneapolis. I think that any proposal to replace the current system should specify what the replacement will be. I would vote for the city just taking over trash collection and recycling. But strongly oppose going back to the old system.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 10/27/2019 - 04:07 pm.

      I think the bigger issue is over how the city botched the whole thing by not using a formal rfp process. Most cities are able to manage 1-2 carriers at lower costs than proposed by St. Paul.

      • Submitted by Leon Webster on 10/27/2019 - 09:54 pm.

        But will a no vote fix that? The process was pushed by folks who, for some odd reason, wanted to preserve their relationship 2ith their trash hauler

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/28/2019 - 01:04 pm.

        The reason for that is people wanted to keep the small haulers around. The city listened to the people, and then those small haulers sold out.

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