Red River fails to appear at City Council meeting for status report

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Red River did not send CEO James A. Smith or a representative to Tuesday evening’s Fort Wayne City Council meeting at the request of council to discuss the future of the city’s contract with the company.

According to Council President Paul Ensley (District 1), an email was sent to Red River on Wednesday as well as an overnighted letter requesting that Smith come to Tuesday’s meeting. Council has not heard a response from the company.

“It’s better to see that they are a no-show now than when the performance bond lapses at the end of the year,” said Councilman Russ Jehl (District 2).

In 2017, Red River secured a seven-year collection and hauling contract with the city. The service has been problematic for many residents from the outset, with regular missed collections that led to fines levied against the contractor.

Fast forward to 2021, the Texas-based waste company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In the filing, the family-owned business, which services 310,000 households across five states, blamed the COVID-19 pandemic, a credit agreement and “operational challenges” for its financial struggles.

When this happened, John Perlich, Fort Wayne’s spokesman, stated “the city was still studying the bankruptcy filing of its trash and recycling contractor, Red River Waste Solutions”. 

On Tuesday, WANE 15 reached out for an update going into the council meeting. According to Perlich, the City of Fort Wayne Solid Waste Department speaks daily with Red River’s operations team in Fort Wayne.

“Those discussions are cordial and productive and focus on the daily work of getting garbage and recycling materials collected,” Perlich sent in a statement. “The City Administration is pursuing both immediate and long-term alternatives to waste collection services should Red River not be able to perform the collection services. While we must adhere to the oversight and strict rules of the bankruptcy court proceedings, we are making progress on several fronts. Our priority is maintaining quality waste collection service. As in many industries, labor and equipment shortages are also a significant challenge in the waste collection industry. Those market conditions are something we will need to manage through, especially in the short term. It is early in the bankruptcy process and we likely have some time before we determine the best path forward.”

However, Fort Wayne’s City Council members still have a long list of questions about the future of the company and the city’s trash collection service.

Those unanswered questions led to Jehl asking Council to subpoena the current president of Red River to come to a meeting for an update.

“I left last week’s Solid Waste Advisory Board meeting under the impression almost no, perhaps, none at all real discussion has taken place between Fort Wayne leadership and Red River leadership over the past two years,” Jehl said in an interview earlier this month. “Also the performance bond which is to protect the citizens of Fort Wayne, and there’s a default, may be in jeopardy because it needs to be renewed annually on a calendar year basis. Time is of the essence and waiting around and hoping that things get better is proven for four years to be a poor strategy. I propose that the Council invite Red River’s CEO to brief us directly and when he rejects that we inquire the legality to subpoena him.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Jehl had little hope that the CEO will show up.

“We do not expect Red River to show up. Which I guess is par for the course considering they don’t show up to pick up the garbage either,” Jehl said.

After the no show at the meeting, council will now “take next steps” to get Red River officials in front of council to answer questions.

Councilmen Glynn Hines (At-Large) assured the public that council is “questioning all entities” related to Red River and trash pick up on a regular basis.

On Tuesday, WANE 15 reached out to Red River for comment. A representative said he would have someone contact us for a comment, but we have not received a response.

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