Why I didn’t vote for my city’s most pressing issue: Trash Collection

11:15pm Sunday

Saint Paul, Minnesota


Hey there,

This weekend I took my two kids to the library. I was previously unaware, but there was early voting available for Tuesday’s November election.

Photo "CL Society 218: Crossing arms" by Francisco Osorio, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Voting, like most decisions, is more about emotions than about facts on an unknown future. Photo “CL Society 218: Crossing arms” by
Francisco Osorio, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

“Are you here to vote today?” asked the voting attendant.

“No… but let’s do it!” I replied.

My kids fell hush at the democracy happening all around them.

We found a booth.

One of the three ballot questions asked if I wanted to vote Yes or No for something with the city’s year-old trash removal program.

Trash removal is big news around here in Saint Paul.

Just a few years ago, every household could select their own trash hauler. There were trucks from many companies on every street, every day.

Last year, the Saint Paul city government took over the program, dividing the city for various private haulers.

Less traffic, less road wear, greater efficiencies.

Well… this first year has been a disaster.

Apartment buildings are forced to have dozens of individual trash bins, filling parking spaces and alleys. Prices have increased for many home owners and renters. My own trash hauler went out of business, increasing the customer base of another hauler.

Now we’re voting should this program remain, or should the city revert to the old system and face whatever legal penalties might come our way.

And really, we have no way of knowing the right answer.

Any new system is going to be imperfect. Old systems as well. Only through learning and iteration will a system evolve to meet its demands. So maybe we give this system a chance… longer than a single year.

I also understand that government is often inefficient. My own city has a flair for poor spending decisions.

So while my children waited and I contemplated…

I chose to not vote on this part of the ballot.

The ballot initiative is an emotional question that I don’t know enough about. Arguments on both sides are based on legal what-ifs about the passing of the law, the repeal of the law, and the written law itself.

It’s a mess. I don’t understand enough to get involved. I can see both sides of the argument (which should always be my goal). Any side I chose on this question would be an emotional decision. (In fact, almost every decision we make is an emotional one, as we’ve covered on this site and on the email list.)

I don’t want to align myself with either side of the drama. (Identity isn’t our friend.) So I skipped that one of the three ballot sections.




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