Mayor Tom Henry fires back at Red River criticism

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry (D) fired back at the criticism aimed at Red River Waste Solutions and his administration.

This comes after Red River did not show up to Fort Wayne’s City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

The council asked for Red River leaders to attend the meeting to discuss the future of the city’s contract with the company. However, Red River’s CEO, James A. Smith, declined the invitation by not showing up to the meeting.

Mayor Henry told WANE 15’s Briana Brownlee that there are three components to consider when discussing Red River.

“First of all, the quality of service of Red River and whether or not it’s truly a problem in this community,” Mayor Henry said. “Red River picks up 15-16 thousand trash bins everyday. We normally get less than a hundred calls for missed trash and missed recycling. If they do the numbers, that’s less than one half of 1 percent of the trash bins that are being missed. Do we really have a problem? I submit to you we don’t.”

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.

Mayor Henry said certainly for those 100 customers that are missed, it is a problem, but to continuously beat on Red River for poor service and poor quality is an “erroneous statement.”

“Which leads to my second point,” Mayor Henry said. “We have at least one City Council member who is determined to berate this company, who is truly trying to work as a partner with the city of Fort Wayne. We meet almost every day with Red River. Yet we have one council member who continuously beats on the administration, beats on Red River, as being uncooperative and unresponsive. To me that is disingenuous. To me it’s nothing more than a political statement.”

Councilman Russ Jehl (R-2nd) has been extremely vocal about his disdain for Red River’s service. During an interview on Tuesday, the councilman said when the garbage isn’t being picked up, it’s no longer a first-class city and is a problem for a third-world country. Jehl also said he left a recent Solid Waste Advisory board under the impression that there had been little to no discussion between Fort Wayne leadership and Red River leadership over the past two years.

“The city, for four years, to act like being nice is the right strategy, pat Red River on the head and say, ‘I know you are trying hard,’ and not fine them, not force them into an assignment of the contract has allowed us to be put in this position,” Jehl said.

“We’ve hit the iceberg,” Jehl added. “Council’s been warning for four years that there is an iceberg ahead and the Solid Waste department and the Administration has done nothing at all. I’m not sure if they are up to the challenge or not, but City Council is prepared to do everything it can.”

Mayor Henry responded: “that councilman is wrong.” He said it’s easy to be an arm-chair quarterback, and challenged “that councilman” to get on one of the trucks and follow one of the routes.

“Until you can walk their walk, don’t talk,” Mayor Henry said.

The Texas-based waste company has 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.

This prompted council to call on Red River to attend a meeting to discuss the contracts.

“It’s a realistic possibility that the $5 million bond at the end of the year will expire. So what we want is to flush out whether or not they intend to continue their contract or whether they intend to default. We shouldn’t wait until the performance bond is going to go away,” Jehl said.

Henry said that citizens need to understand that the waste company filed for Chapter 11, not Chapter 7.

“The difference is that Chapter 11 is simply a move to reorganize, to refinance their company,” Mayor Henry said. “Chapter 7 is when you have no money, have to shut down your operation, and that’s not the case at all. We need to understand that this company is trying to be successful and they are working with us to try and do that. So to sit there and try and punish them and drive them down further, it doesn’t do anybody any good.”

During the Mayoral Debate in 2018, Red River was a hot button topic. Mayor Henry acknowledged the issues with Red River as growing pains and believed partnership is the solution. Nearly three years later he stands behind that method.

“They are trying really hard but there are a lot of factors involved,” Mayor Henry said. “Unquestionably, nationally, there is a shortage of drivers with CDL licenses. Red River is no different – it requires a CDL license. Because of that, they have to compete everyday and try and get drivers. Drivers come in, drivers leave. When drivers leave, trucks don’t get operated.”

The mayor stressed that Red River has improved over the past few months and that citizens should be patient and work with them as a partner, not as an enemy.

Mayor Henry confirmed that he speaks with regularly with the local representatives and administration of Red River.

Latest numbers from October and November

Here is data of recent verified misses. Red River collects 83,300 households weekly, or roughly 16,660 per day.

Oct. 25 – 32 garbage misses and 6 recycling misses
Oct. 26 – 25 garbage misses and 3 recycling misses
Oct. 27 – 42 garbage misses and 6 recycling misses
Oct. 28 – 84 garbage misses and 16 recycling misses
Oct. 29 – 40 garbage misses and 6 recycling misses

That equates to .0026% of households having a verified miss for garbage collection.

Nov. 1 – 50 garbage misses and 5 recycling misses
Nov. 2 – 24 garbage misses and 3 recycling misses
Nov. 3 – 24 garbage misses and 7 recycling misses
Nov. 4 – 33 garbage misses and 9 recycling misses
Nov. 5 – 27 garbage misses and 2 recycling misses

That equates to .0018% of households having a verified miss for garbage collection.

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