The above headline pretty much describes the deal made last week by Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden and the County Council over the local custom of not putting trash-hauling contracts out to bid.
For decades, executives have personally appointed haulers when rare openings occurred. No bid is put out, no formal contract is drawn up, no other government agency enters the process. A handshake with the executive is enough to seal the deal.
We're not talking peanuts here, either. This year, some 50 private haulers will be awarded contracts totaling more than $15 million. Individual contracts range from $124,000 to $640,000.
Council members and even some executives have criticized the practice over the years, but no reforms have materialized. One reason for that is because the private haulers offer good service at a relatively low cost to county residents. Another reason, one not usually mentioned by the pols, is that the haulers contribute to local political campaigns.
In a 1992 report on the issue, even the county auditor couldn't help concluding that something smelled rotten. He noted that county law requires individual contracts over $15,000 to be granted through sealed bids, with all contracts over $25,000 to be approved by the council. When council members asked Mr. Hayden about this flouting of the law, he told them in so many words to butt out.
Recently, he proposed legislation to make the process jibe with a state requirement that no-bid contracting be codified by a local ordinance. The once-wary County Council gladly passed Mr. Hayden's bill. The members were sold on the promise that they would gain oversight of the operation through yearly reports from the Hayden administration.
This seeming compromise doesn't alter our feelings about the process: It just plain smells.
Maybe Mr. Hayden hasn't abused the system, but the potential is always there for him or a future executive to do so. For true oversight, we'd like these annual reports to include lists of all haulers who give political contributions to the executive and council members, with amounts cited as well.
We'd also like Mr. Hayden and the council members to talk to public officials in Phoenix, Ariz., who found that when they made public and private haulers bid on trash routes, the public agency was forced to become leaner and smarter. The results? Big savings for the city and sky-high morale for public sanitation workers. It could happen here. We'll never know, though, so long as the pols hold tight to a perk they've enjoyed too long.