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Springfield, MO

Council postpones information request for fear of information requests

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Springfield City Council on Tuesday indefinitely postponed a mandatory request for information from local trash haulers to ferret out the future of residential refuse collection.

Council last week met to discuss a new outreach initiative questioning whether to scrap the current trash system in favor of a new one. Plans for requests for information were noted during the meeting.

With a 5-3 vote last night, council tabled the request for information process after learning that data gathered from the request might be open to public records requests via Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

City staff advised the information could be collected in two ways from trash haulers: a list of residential addresses served or through a more anonymous grid of the city in which haulers would indicate how many customers they serve per grid cell.

“This information would be requested on behalf of the city attorney, and we would do our best to ensure that each hauler’s information stays private throughout the study period,” City Manager Greg Burris said. “However, we are a public agency, and there’s no guarantees that the information would not eventually become public.”

Burris said the information would equate to having a series of residential addresses or rough locations that trash haulers serve. But it’s information some council members regard as private.

Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson was the first to raise concern on the potential public availability of the information.

“I don’t want someone’s proprietary information to be available through a Sunshine request,” she said. “I don’t know. I’m just not really comfortable to vote on this until I know.”

Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky said the release of the information could cause lawsuits against the city.

“If it was my company, I would challenge a statute that you have to give up private information and addresses and that kind of data on your company,” Fulnecky said. “I really think those are trade secrets.”

Council members Mike Schilling, Craig Hosmer and Richard Ollis voted against tabling the request for information. Hosmer said anyone could drive the city streets and see which trash hauler services which resident.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who people are having pick up their trash,” he said. “I just don’t see that being that big of an issue.”

With Councilman Thomas Prater absent from the meeting, the body also voted on a suite of items composing a bill that, in essence, aims to secure full funding for the city’s voter-approved waste management system, before existing city-landfill disposal contracts expire in April 2019.

The bill also officially spurred the start of a 90-day, city-run educational and public input campaign centered on whether the city should adopt a coordinated system for residential trash collection.
 
Under such a system, the city would be divided into sectors, within which licensed trash haulers would be bound, replacing the current open-market system for residents’ refuse collection. The educational and input initiative passed 7-1, with Fulnecky being the lone dissenter.

Fulnecky said she supported current residential trash operations, claiming that efforts to discuss a coordinated system are a waste of time and money. A final council decision to adopt or deny a coordinated trash collection system is forthcoming.

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