UPDATE: Nevada state ethics commissioners found "no credible evidence" to support a complaint filed earlier this year against Reno's sustainability manager, Lynn Barker, as reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Barker is in charge of regulating Reno's franchise agreement with Waste Management, including multiple exemptions that allow local companies to continue operating. Two of those companies, Rubbish Runners and Nevada Recycling and Salvage, were behind the complaint against Barker and have long been critical of how the city handles the franchise system.
"Frankly, we weren't surprised," Reno City Attorney Karl Hall said in a written statement reported by the Gazette-Journal. "Very early on, the evidence clearly established that Ms. Barker conducted herself in a thoroughly professional and ethical manner. The allegations in the complaint were politically motivated and completely unfounded. In this case, Ms. Barker was the victim."
The ethics commissioners found that Barker's actions toward the companies had not been retaliatory. As for requesting sponsorship from Waste Management to attend a conference — which they did not provide — the commissioners recommended more caution around the issue and recommended that public agencies update their policies on industry-sponsored travel. Reno's travel policy doesn't currently address the question of industry sponsorship.
- Two local haulers in Reno — Rubbish Runners and Nevada Recycling and Salvage — have filed a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Ethics that alleges the city's sustainability manager targeted them because they raised questions about her relationship with Waste Management, as reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal. The sustainability manager, Lynne Barker, is in charge of enforcing contract terms for Waste Management's franchise agreement with the city.
- In January 2016, Barker emailed the company asking for help with her travel costs to attend their annual sustainability forum in Arizona. An attorney for the two local haulers later brought this to the attention of city officials. According to the attorney, Barker subsequently ruled that a local business couldn't use Rubbish Runners under franchise terms and called in a stronger-than-usual inspection at a Nevada Recycling and Salvage facility.
- A spokesperson for Waste Management told the Reno Gazette-Journal they believe Barker is "enforcing the franchise as negotiated." Until the Nevada Commission on Ethics investigates the complaint it will not confirm or deny its receipt.
Whether Barker's actions showed favoritism or constitute any type of violation will be up to the state commission to decide. Her initial ruling against the specific business using Rubbish Runners was later reversed, but random inspections are not uncommon. The larger story here is that Rubbish Runners and Nevada Recycling and Salvage have found a new tactic in their ongoing efforts to question Waste Management's franchise agreement with Reno.
Since 2012, Waste Management has held a franchise agreement that gives it the rights to a large share of the city's waste. Smaller haulers say this makes it difficult for them to stay in business and have pursued legal action multiple times. Last summer, the main issue was an antitrust lawsuit filed by the same two companies that was later dismissed. Some members of the Reno City Council have also expressed concern with various elements of the agreement in the past.
As seen in other parts of Nevada and elsewhere, some amount of pushback from smaller haulers can be expected when long-term franchise agreements are in play. To some extent this can be seen as natural competition in local markets over lucrative contracts that give a clear advantage to whichever company wins them. Though unless any actual violations have occurred, it's usually hard for these smaller haulers to change this dynamic. Some may not survive long enough to bid again once the contract is up for renewal.