One of two complaints obtained through FOIA was from competing thrift shop employee
GRAND RAPIDS — The ban on recycling bins on private property here appears to be the work of a handful of individuals, including an employee from a thrift shop that benefits from the ban, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Using the FOIA law, Michigan Capitol Confidential requested emails, written correspondence and phone logs of all recycling bin complaints in the city of Grand Rapids over the past year.
In compliance with the FOIA request, a city attorney said he spent 15 hours sifting through more than 20,000 thousand emails. The search revealed that two residents complained about bins on private property. One of the names is an employee of a local non-profit thrift shop, who stated the competing bins are "eyesores" and requested the city enforce its zoning ordinances.
Cities across the country are creating ordinances banning the bins, which private business owners have permitted on their property. Cities claim the bins are a nuisance and are ordering them removed. But an ongoing investigation by Capitol Confidential shows that other forces are at stake in Grand Rapids.
This summer, Grand Rapids announced it would fine business owners $100 for allowing recycling bins on their private property.
The city prohibits "non-ancillary" outdoor business and says that the recycling bins on private property fall under this category for the convenience stores, dollar stores and dry cleaners that have allowed the bins on their property. The donated materials are picked up by non-profit and for-profit organizations that use money from the sale of the items for charity.
Businesses and organizations with brick-and-mortar recycling operations in Grand Rapids, like Goodwill and the Salvation Army are exempt from the ordinance. The decision to enforce the ordinance was made within the administration, not by the city council.
The ban appears to have been spearheaded by two city commissioners and two city employees.
Commissioner Ruth Kelly was one of the commissions whose emails surfaced in the search. She said she supports the ban.
"Yes, I do support the ban. I had numerous and frequent emails from the constituents I serve complaining about the bins," she said in an email. "The problem was that people were dropping off goods and placing them outside of the bins. We had couches, chairs and sometimes garbage that would collect alongside of the bins and it was upsetting the residents in nearby neighborhood."
Commissioner Roselynn Bliss was the other commissioner who said she exchanged several emails with the city's zoning enforcement workers. She said she also supports the ban on private property.
"We were receiving regular complaints that people were dropping off bags of garbage at them; that rodents, skunks and other animals were getting into the bags left outside the boxes and that they were a magnet for graffiti," Bliss said in an email. "The planning department spent quite a bit of time on this and they likely have many pictures that they could share with you."
A day after the ban took place, CapCon toured Grand Rapids to find instances of dumping, but did not see any problems that day or the three subsequent days. More recently, a reporter toured the city and found garbage cans and dumpsters throughout the city with uncontained trash (see images nearby). The city does not appear to be taking action in banning those.