Mayor defends actions on city recycling contracts

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Mayor Sylvester Turner is standing by his and his administration's actions on city recycling contracts in the wake of an ABC13 investigation. Today the One Bin CEO called for city investigations into the mayor and members of his team on how they handled garbage contracting. Hours after it was made, the mayor rejected one of those requests.

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ABC13 broke the story last week as the new recycling deal was being unveiled. Mayor Turner was angry and called the questions on the city's One Bin contracting efforts bullying.

One Bin was a proposal to collect all trash, recycling and yard waste in one can and recycle as much as 75 percent of it. After years of work starting with Mayor Annise Parker. The city, under Mayor Tuner, passed on it and decided not to continue contract negotiations.

Today, after calls at a press conference by the One Bin creator for investigations by the city attorney and controller, a much more relaxed Mayor Turner defended his administration's decision.

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George Gitschel, Eco Hub's CEO and the man behind the One Bin plan, asked the city to look hard at itself.

"I am not going to give up," Gitschel said.

Gitschel said he worked for three years with the city to finalize a contract to collect all recycling, trash, and yard waste in one bin. When the city passed, it opened up a new bid for simple recycling.

That contract is up for a council vote later this month, but Gitschel didn't bid on it.

"They had every right to submit a bid like five other companies did, they chose not to," Turner said.

At his press conference and in a subsequent letter, Gitschel today asked the city controller to investigate what Gitschel alleges is bid-rigging against his company.

"The way this bid was written, I could not qualify for it," Gitschel said.

In another letter, Gitschel also asked the city attorney to investigate lobbying by Marvalette Hunter, who was then a private consultant but is now the mayor's chief of staff.

"The City [Attorney] has received the letter and find that the assertions being made have no merit," Turner said in a written statement late Wednesday. "EcoHub chose not to participate in the procurement process, and subsequently withdrew their bidding protest, therefore no further action is necessary."

"She was never a lobbyist for-- for-- what's the name of this company? For EcoHub," Turner said.

Gitschel provided us with a lobbying contract Hunter apparently signed before becoming chief of staff.

And his letter to the city attorney today details repeated meetings, emails and phone calls Gitschel said she made on EcoHub's behalf.

Hunter terminated the contract before she was ever paid on it and previously told ABC13 she had no information on the deal.

"It was never good for me. Never," the mayor said.

More broadly, a week after ABC13 Investigates publically asked him One Bin questions, Turner now suggests he was never a fan of the One Bin idea, which fits his explanation that One Bin, which was never completed under former Mayor Annise Parker, was never alive once he took over.

"I don't care how you look at it, I think it's suspect to ask me why I didn't sign off on a matter that started before I got here as if it was a perfect deal," Turner said.

But our investigation turned up a letter from a Turner department head seven days into his term suggesting "the city finalize the [One Bin] contract."

And a letter Turner signed nine months into his term supporting a research project that detailed the city's efforts as an environmental leader claiming the city was "in the process of finalizing" a program eerily similar to One Bin.

Last week, the mayor was heated when confronted with the letter. Today, he suggests it was solely in support of the research.

"The letter you keep talking about is a letter that came from the University of Houston, not them, because I am a cougar and I am the mayor and it was a grant," Turner said.

The city controller's office tells us they are reviewing Gitschel's letter.

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