[San Mateo County] Report says RethinkWaste must improve transparency

RethinkWaste is doing a good job meeting its customers trash and recycling removal expectations, according to a recent Civil Grand Jury report, but room for improvement exists in the agency’s financial reporting practices.

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury issued a report Tuesday, July 31, ostensibly examining stakeholder satisfaction following a management shakeup at the garbage authority in 2013.

While finding little difference in the high quality of service provided to 12 communities across the county, the report does call on RethinkWaste to improve its the commitment financial transparency.

“The grand jury found issues with Rethink Waste’s public transparency,” said foreperson Richard Edminster in a press release. “We recommend that by the end of the year it post its current and past annual reports and audited financial statement and that it keep them current.”

For his part, RethinkWaste Executive Director Joe La Mariana said the recommendation will be addressed in short order.

“We certainly respect transparency and want to do everything in our power to offer full accessibility since we are a public agency,” he said.

To that end, he said the agency was already working on plans to update its financial webpage and expects a comprehensive set of reports to be available soon.

“We are working on that already,” he said.

The grand jury’s recommendation comes after a review of the agency’s website found financial statements to the public have not been updated since 2014, around the time when RethinkWaste transitioned from an administrative team comprised of appointed staff to elected officials.

The shift made little impact on the agency’s effectiveness, according to the report, which surveyed a variety of customer metrics and found most customers continued to be satisfied with their service.

“The grand jury believes that the [South Bay Waste Management Authority], with its new board of elected officials, seems to have accomplished the goal of having high stakeholder satisfaction following the [South Bay Waste Management Authority] change in governance,” according to the report referencing RethinkWaste’s official organization title.

La Mariana too said he believes the change has invited improved leadership and oversight. “We absolutely see the value and the advantages of having a government model that has representation from elected officials,” he said.

More work remains ahead though, as the grand jury called on RethinkWaste to update the nearly four years worth of budgets and other financial documents online.

Emails between the grand jury and the agency suggest RethinkWaste expressed a willingness to update the missing documents late last year, but no action was taken since, according to the report.

The grand jury reiterated its interest is seeing the reports uploaded online, in a recommendation that RethinkWaste “adopt policies and procedures to ensure that annual agency reports and annual financial reports are posted for public availability with links to provide such information.”

While the jury cannot direct officials to adopt any specific policy for addressing the issue, the report directs the agency’s Board of Directors to respond to the report within 90 days. La Mariana said he expects a response will be issued well ahead of the deadline.

August 1, 2018

The Daily Journal

Daily Journal staff report