Thursday, August 14, 2014

‘House of Lies’ joins ‘House of Cards’ in Chester City Council decision on Covanta

Two of my favorite TV shows are House of Lies and House of Cards. ‘Lies’ stars Don Cheadle who leads a group of management consultants that does whatever it takes to get business deals done for their clients. ‘Cards’ stars Kevin Spacey as a ruthless and powerful Washington politician who uses his power and manipulation to promote policy and himself. Both shows are primarily dramas sprinkled with just enough comedy to make me think and laugh at the same time. 

Yesterday’s Chester City Council took a page from both shows. If it were a TV episode they’d name it ‘Covanta Trumps Murder’. 

Let’s get the murder reference out the way first. 

If you haven’t noticed, there was a time when multiple murders leading up to a city council meeting would bring out an army of residents waving signs, wearing identical tee-shirts and screaming and hollering about more policing and asking what’s going to be done. None of that was on display yesterday. Death in the streets took a back seat to trash yesterday. The topic never came up.

Let’s briefly discuss what really happened at City Hall.

The Covanta folks had set up the room before the meeting began with a screen, projector, and a ton of handouts. Their crew took up the entire front row which confirmed that a vote was going to occur. 

The meeting opened with Mayor John Linder ignoring the agenda and gave the floor to Covanta to make a presentation. Covanta gave a long and boring presentation to the City Council members (not the audience) about their operation with far more detail than needed to be discussed since the vote was only for building permits. 

Following the presentation, the mayor instructed the crowd that public discussion would start on the Covanta presentation and folks lined up to the mic voicing their support and concerns. 

Several revelations came from these discussions. 
  1. If you didn’t live in Chester you were not welcome at the mic. 
  2. The assumption that the vote would occur at an evening council meeting and the public would have an opportunity to hear from Covanta before the vote was clarified by a council person who explained that council was not obligated to honor a night meeting and the presentation from Covanta that opened the meeting is considered the public’s opportunity to hear from them. 
  3. If the vote was not approved, Covanta was prepared to sue which would have costs the city money and Delaware County courts would very likely approve the request if it reached that far. 

Following the public discussion, the meeting following the published agenda until Mayor Linder realize how awkward the order of resolutions were listed. Number 9 on the list was Covanta. In an effort to get it over with, Mayor instructed the clerk to jump right to the Covanta resolution.

One councilperson immediately justified their vote to the crowd before casting a vote. When the voting began, the first councilperson to vote did the same. Finally, in quick succession, the council voted Yes across the board and the Covanta people couldn’t get out the room fast enough. More than half of the crowd left with a few hecklers expressing themselves on the way out. 

The rest of the meeting was rather routine. 

The Daily Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer both reported on the council meeting. I encourage you to read the Inquirer article because it does an excellent job of only presenting the facts as they occurred at the meeting. The Daily Times article has a lot of filler, much of which is the conflicting information that makes this vote so contentious.

For example, The Daily Times interjects how much waste Covanta burns in Chester and that they’re bringing in 500,000 tons of trash from New York which was never brought up in the meeting. When they write a quote from Covanta saying ‘it doesn’t change the tonnage of waste we receive’ only begs the question - is the New York waste new waste coming to Chester or existing New York waste being repackaged?

Let’s not forget that this whole issue started when Covanta signed a new contract to receive 1 million tons of trash from New York for the next 20 years and a portion of it was coming to Chester. But Convanta repeatedly said that they are already at capacity at the Chester plant.  They can not and will not be receiving new trash in Chester from New York or anywhere else. 

No one questioned them on that discrepancy. Everyone was questioning air pollution issues which wasn’t part of the vote. 

If the vote was such a slam dunk approval from city council it makes you wonder why the planning commission was unanimously opposed. Nothing changed between the planning commission vote and the city council vote (unless Cheadle and Spacey came to town). 

Mayor Linder gave the best line of the day when he said that ‘all of us need better education of how these businesses are operating in Chester’. 

House of Lies and House of Cards writers would love the story line coming out of council yesterday. According the the sentiment of those in opposition of the approval, the Yes vote will create a House of Horrors. 


  1. Great drama!! Never a dull moment...


  2. Did city council sell the residents out because Covanta bought them new cars?