DIAMOND BAR — After months of talking trash, the City Council is finally on the verge of selecting the young city's first garbage collector.
Apparently believing that haste makes waste, council members have wrestled with the question since February, when the city formally took over waste disposal responsibilities from the county.
Currently, residents contract directly with any trash-pickup company they choose. On Tuesday, the council is scheduled to weigh its options: award an exclusive $3-million-a-year franchise to one of nine companies that applied for the job, keep the market open under a permit system or put the contract out to bid--again.
"It should have been innocuous as to how to resolve it, but it's turned into a monster that won't stop growing," Councilwoman Phyllis Papen said.
During the last nine months, the issue has been marked by controversy and political mudslinging as council members converted it into a dumping ground for personal accusations and recriminations.
As it stands, only three of the five council members--the minimum needed for a quorum--will be allowed to vote. Councilmen John Forbing and Paul Horcher, who last week won the 52nd Assembly District seat, disqualified themselves in June because of conflicts of interest.
Forbing bowed out because the monthly community magazine "The Windmill," edited by his wife, ran advertisements by several waste haulers under consideration and resulted in income to her of more than $500.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission advised Forbing that his participation in the vote would constitute a conflict of interest.
Horcher, an attorney, did legal work for a company that had an interest in one of the nine waste haulers up for the city contract. Although Horcher's connection with the hauler was indirect, City Atty. Andrew Arczynski said, "it was close enough that from a conservative point of view I recommended that he step down."
But his disqualification did not prevent the waste disposal issue from being knit into his assembly campaign. Earlier this month, Papen, a political foe of Horcher, said that his campaign received contributions from several of the nine competing companies in April and May, before he exempted himself from voting on the issue.
Records show that contributions to Horcher from at least four of the nine companies totaled more than $2,000 during those two months.
Harvey Englander, who ran Horcher's campaign, said the donations did not constitute conflict of interest.
"Legally, political contributions are not conflicts of interest. The fact is that special interests, since time began, have made contributions to all political candidates and officeholders. Paul has never had a conflict of interest (from the contributions), and he never will have the opportunity to vote on who gets the waste disposal contract."
Englander in turn accused Papen of having a conflict. Papen lives with Michael Lowe, a marketing consultant who until recently represented the Chino-based Western Waste Industries, one of two top-ranked candidates. The other main contender is Community Disposal of Industry.
Although she and Lowe live together, Papen said, they are not married and only share living expenses, without commingling funds.
"Conflicts of interest are legal matters. I have a letter from the (Fair Political Practices Commission stating) that I do not have a conflict of interest in voting on this issue. I have been very circumspect to make sure I have been doing what is proper," she said, adding that she had directed the city attorney to obtain an opinion from the commission for her in April.
Lowe, who worked with a group opposing Horcher's candidacy, said he ended his working relationship with Western Waste just before the election because of pressure allegedly brought to bear on the company by the Horcher campaign.
Lowe claimed that Horcher's camp, angered by his political activities, told the firm that its reputation would be damaged unless it decided to "either fire him or get him under control." Lowe terminated his contract with the company but is renegotiating, he said. Western Waste referred requests for comment to Vice President Al Simonian, who did not return phone calls.
Englander denied that the campaign had pressured Western Waste.
"Paul Horcher has not had a conversation with anyone from Western Waste in at least three, maybe four to five months," Englander said. But, he added: "I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is a consultant for Western Waste and told him how disappointed I was that Western Waste couldn't control their consultants, and that . . . I was sorry if (the company) became a campaign issue because of Mr. Lowe's activities."
On Tuesday, the Diamond Bar City Council will meet to decide on waste disposal. Its options include awarding an exclusive $3-million-a-year franchise to one of nine companies that applied for the job of disposing of residents' waste, keeping the market open under a permit system that allows each homeowner to pick a waste disposal company, or putting the contract out to bid again.