Recycling company sues city of Houston over records

By Mike Morris
Houston Chronicle
Originally published Aug. 1, 2017

A company that claims its innovative technologies can recycle or reuse nearly all household waste is suing the city of Houston, hoping to reveal why its proposal was shunned in favor of a more traditional approach to curbside recycling.

EcoHub sued the city Tuesday in state district court, seeking to have a judge compel city leaders to release records its consultants have requested but not received under the Texas Public Information Act.

EcoHub CEO George Gitschel had been in contract talks with officials in Mayor Sylvester Turner and former mayor Annise Parker’s offices in hopes of achieving his ambitious One Bin For All program. The idea was to collect all household, yard and commercial waste in a single container, process it for $25 per ton and repurpose 95 percent of the materials into new products at an $800 million facility.

Talks ended when the current recycling procurement to secure a new curbside recycling contract launched last fall. That procurement has been stalled after council members repeatedly raised questions about the process by which the winning bidder was chosen.

Gitschel alleges that corruption must have played a role in the city’s decision to abandon talks with EcoHub, and he hired former investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino’s consulting firm earlier this year, seeking to tie the Turner administration to officials with the area’s leading trash firms.

The lawsuit suggests “improper influence” may have been brought to bear on city officials by “those who stand to financially benefit the most from the status quo.”

A spokesman for Turner said, “No one questions the right of anyone to file allegations in a court of law. The city will respond to the allegations where they were made.”

The lawsuit says four document requests filed between Jan. 6 and July 19 have not been fully answered, even when the city did not challenge the release of some of the requested documents. In the cases in which the city sought the Texas Attorney General’s approval to withhold documents, the lawsuit seeks to have a judge validate that the requested documents do, in fact, meet the exemptions the city has claimed in denying the requests.

“We’re hoping that a fresh set of eyes at the Harris County Courthouse will agree with us that the public’s right to know is more important than protecting what appears to be an agenda driven more by the mayor’s personal preference than concern for residents of the city,” attorney Stewart Hoffer said.