Trash Talk

THE LOCAL LAW firm of Dorsey and Whitney recently mailed out over 300,000 letters informing county taxpayers that it had filed a $100 million class-action lawsuit on their behalf against Hennepin County. The suit claims that taxpayers have been grossly overcharged for trash hauling and recycling services by virtue of a rule that requires all solid waste to be disposed of at plants within county borders (including the downtown Minneapolis incinerator) rather than allowing private contractors to drive it to out-of-state landfills with cheaper rates.

There is one little irony. Any judgment in the case would ultimately be paid by... the taxpayers of Hennepin County. In simple terms, says defense attorney Charlie Nauen, "That means taxpayers are essentially suing themselves."

For the county, a defeat in court would figure as a huge loss of income at the downtown incinerator, which cost $129 million to build just a few years ago and depends on the inflated "tipping fees" charged to taxpayers for its operating budget. Nauen adds that it could also jeopardize the diversion of trash from landfills into the incinerator--which, considering their respective environmental costs, is a difficult prospect to assess. In dollars and cents terms, a loss for the county could mean a big hike in property taxes to foot the bill for the settlement, interest, and attorneys' fees.

One thing is certain, though. Dorsey and Whitney--which just this August scored a whopping $7.1 million judgment for a group of private waste haulers against the county--could walk away from a victory with millions in legal fees. Though D and W's Bob Cattanach claims "we're not trying to get rich off this case," a ruling in their favor would earn a pretty cut for the firm, straight out of the pockets of their clients.

RACIAL POLITICS HEATED up at the Minneapolis Fire and Police departments this week. On Monday Fire Chief Tom Dickinson met with City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes and others to discuss his controversial termination of six minority members of the MFD's cadet class who Dickinson alleged to be gang members. Dickinson was reportedly unrepentant, but that will not be the end of the issue: According to Ron Edwards, who chairs a court-appointed steering committee on minority hiring by the fire department, his group is preparing to ask for Dickinson's resignation for what Edwards terms "a gross and blatant violation of a standing court order." Meanwhile, members of the citizens' committee that has been acting as a liaison between the Minneapolis Black Police Officers Association and Police Chief Bob Olson met with Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton last Friday and informed her that they will advise the officers to sue the department.

THE HAWKINS CHEMICAL fire last week in northeast Minneapolis couldn't have come at a worse time politically: Two days earlier, the environmental group U.S. PIRG had released a report on chemical accidents, which concluded that some kind of toxic mayhem takes place on average twice a day in the U.S. The report also served as one more salvo in a little-reported battle over the Community Right-to-Know Act, a law under which companies must tell the public about chemicals they release into the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed expanding the law to deal with more chemicals (right now it only addresses about 5 percent of the 72,000 known toxic substances used in industry); to make firms report what materials they use, not just what they discharge; and to cover power plants, incinerators, and mining facilities, all of which are now exempt. Industry groups have warned of all-out "war" if the expansion goes ahead. The EPA will take public comments on the matter until December 31. Comments can be sent to EPA Administrator Carol Browner at 401 M St. S.W., Washington, DC 20460. The agency also has a homepage
on Community Right-to-Know (

PAT SCOTT IS the first City Council member to have an official challenger for Campaign '97: Over the weekend, DFL activist Chris Bacon announced his bid for the Seventh Ward seat. Bacon's marketing background (during a stint at General Mills, his résumé notes, he helped launch Frosted Cheerios) probably won't hurt in the campaign. Nor will his long list of DFL, neighborhood, and gay/lesbian community positions. At least two other candidates have been openly, but not yet officially, campaigning in a ward that includes Kenwood, Bryn Mawr, Loring Park, and a good chunk of downtown.

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