A grassroots group of Bloomington residents calling themselves “Hands Off Our Cans” had their right to amend their City Charter vindicated on February 12. The Minnesota Supreme Court, in a split decision, held that the City of Bloomington acted outside its authority in rejecting a ballot measure which gives voters the right to choose whether to continue with Organized Collection of waste hauling in the City of Bloomington.
This is the second time the group has secured a victory for voter rights over the City at the Minnesota Supreme Court. In 2018, the Supreme Court rejected Bloomington’s argument that the citizen effort was preempted by state law.
At this point, the question of whether or not to continue with Organized Collection *should* be placed on the ballot for the Bloomington voters to decide. No further action is necessary by the citizens group that argued the cases before the Supreme Court, as every single argument advanced by the City has been defeated and decided in favor of the petitioners.
Bloomington’s new mayor and city council have not announced their plans in light of this recent decision. However, the implementation of Organized Trash has seen some challenges. When the city essentially took over the collection of trash in 2016, it subcontracted the collection out to a “consortium” of local and national trash haulers. Each hauler was given its own section of the city in which to collect. That agreement runs out at the end of this year.
In January, the Consortium asked for substantial amendments to the City’s updated agreement, noting several areas where the trash companies could not accept the City’s proposed contract terms. The City Council subsequently voted to go out with a new Request for Proposal not limited to the current Consortium.
One possible outcome of this development is that only the large national trash collection companies may be able to accept the new terms. The smaller local companies that had been more responsive to individual homeowner and neighborhood concerns may not have the financial ability to handle the damages clause of the new contract.
A city-wide referendum on Organized Collection may come just as the price-competitive field of trash collectors is about to disappear.
In a press release, Greg Joseph, the attorney for Hands Off Our Cans, pointed out that “the Court found that the ballot measure was a valid expression of citizen legislative power, and that the City Council’s refusal to place it on the November ballot was not a proper exercise of its authority.”
The Bloomington Charter reserves for its people broad power to enact and change legislation, the majority held. The Court rejected the City of Bloomington’s argument that the ballot measure, a collection of signatures of thousands of city voters, was unconstitutional. The majority also rejected the city’s contention that it was actually a referendum in disguise.
“We were confident in our rights at the outset, and from early on this was primarily about citizen rights and citizen participation and had little to do with organized collection,” said Joel Jennissen, one of the Plaintiffs in the suit. The ruling means that the Charter Amendment, which will give the voters the power to choose their preferred system of trash collection in the City, must be placed on the ballot, at which time the voters can make their voices heard.
The Attorney, Greg Joseph of Halper & Joseph, PLLC in Waconia, also represented a group of Saint Paul residents in a lawsuit against that city for denial of voter rights, and was victorious at the Minnesota Supreme Court last year.