A Royal Waste Services Inc. garbage truck parked in Beaver Road next to the cemetery on the corner of Liberty Avenue. Photo credit: Greis Torres.
By Greis Torres
More than 10 years ago, it was announced with great fanfare that York College was entering into a new contract with a private waste hauling service that was going to revolutionize recycling on the campus.
Not only would the company, Royal Waste Services Inc, take away all the recycling, but they would pay the college back a percentage for the material they managed to sell.
But a recent investigation by Pandora’s Box has revealed that nobody in the college has any clear idea or documentation to verify what quantity of material the company has hauled away or if, in fact, an executed contract was ever signed.
Several Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for documentation regarding York’s business dealings with the company from Pandora’s Box to the college were stalled and, as of this publication, inadequately complied with.
The issue came to light after a college senate meeting during which former Executive Director of Facilities and Planning James Minto announced that Royal Waste wasn’t giving back any money to York College from the recycling before resigning from his position last January.
Minto, who is currently the vice president for facilities and management at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, said in a recent phone interview that he doesn’t recall saying Royal Waste wasn’t giving money to the school at any senate meeting and further added that he didn’t deal with the company while he was employed at York.
After Pandora’s Box requested a copy of the contract between York and Royal Waste in April of 2018, the college stalled for months and only partially complied with the request after the newspaper threatened to file a complaint with state officials in Albany.
One email provided to the newspaper dated Sept. 5, 2018 written by Vice President of Administrative Affairs and Finance Ronald Thomas revealed that nobody at the college has any idea what the terms of the contract are or if, in fact, a contract even exists.
“I am following up on the request below regarding an executed agreement between the College and Royal Waste,” Thomas wrote to an official at the company, five months after the newspaper made its initial request for the contract. “We have been able to locate a few pages, one containing the signature of a former York College official, of what could be an agreement but we have not found a fully executed agreement,” wrote Thomas in the Sept. 5 email. “If you are also unable to find a fully executed, could it be possible that one never existed?”
Despite a request for all email correspondence between York officials and Royal Waste, the college only provided partial emails, most starting in mid-conversation, and only scattered and incomplete details about the amount of material hauled out of York or the cash reimbursement.
On Dec. 17, five days after classes ended and eight months after the initial request was made, V.P. Thomas wrote in an email, “The college has received recycling rebates totalling $1,776.00.”
Multiple attempts to solicit information from officials at Royal Waste were ignored, and on one attempt a Royal Waste employee hung up the telephone.
Thomas, in his Dec. 17 email, added that while the Department of Sanitation removes the regular trash at York, Royal Waste is responsible for taking out solid waste, recyclable material and any trash placed in containers.
As part of the deal, Royal Waste also gets to use portions of the campus to store equipment including trucks and dumpsters, all apparently on a handshake deal as no written specifications seem to exist.
“Since there is a bartering and not a lease agreement between the College and Royal Waste Company, the College does not receive any direct payment from Royal Waste Company,” Thomas wrote in an email dated May 2, 2018. “Based upon the amount carting companies currently charge ($800) to haul a 40 foot roll-off bin to a waste recycling facility and the number of bins used by the college last year (8), it is estimated that the college avoided $6,400 in expenses in fiscal year 2017-2018.”
On Aug. 27, Pandora’s Box received via email a vague and unsigned, two-page rate sheet detailing the monthly cost of containers, cardboard and oil recycling for an annual value of almost $12,000, and a pamphlet detailing what Royal Waste is and the services it provides.
The rate sheet which was signed in April of 2009 by Royal Waste only states that the rate of services will be exchanged for the limited use of Beaver Road near the cemetery at 158 street and the limited use of Site 9, part of the South parking lot.
Soon afterward, Pandora’s Box filed another FOIL request to see the completed agreement or contract and all the emails exchanged between previous and current York administrative officials and Royal.
On Oct. 23, the school’s lawyer, Russell Platzek, sent a bundle of emails that didn’t include any emails exchanged when York started doing business with Royal, and a one-paragraph contract signed by both parties in March of 2008 that states Royal will supply York with recycling boxes, slim jims, 96 gallon toters, two-yard roll offs, weekly pick up for cardboard, paper and bottles, and implement a recycling program at no charge with the rebate being determined based on volume, quality and market expectations.
In the bundle of emails Pandora’s Box received there are none between 2008 and 2010 which were the years where both contracts got signed.
According to Thomas the 2008 contract and 2009 rate sheet are the only documents that exist pertaining to the barter agreement between York and Royal Waste.
The earliest email between York and Royal Pandora’s Box received was sent on Dec. 4, 2007 where the General Manager at Royal Waste Joe Morra wrote to Thomas that he had checked out the property.
“Based on minimum of 4 months $500.00 a month and 1 container a month for bulk removal or $1,000.00 a month without the container,” wrote Morra in 2007. “The property would be used for storing empty containers. This is a rough estimated proposal… Please keep in mind we are going to be working closer with York College by supplying new recycling equipment at know (sic) cost and rebating back through scholarship or stipends for recycled paper we receive.”
From 2006 and 2016, Royal Waste donated $8,000 to the York College Foundation Fund, according to administrative officials.