Couple claims they were threatened by driver
By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — Representatives from Priority Waste answered questions and addressed concerns from the City Council and residents during a study session June 7.
Priority Waste Municipal Relations Manager Paul Ruthenberg and Chief Operating Officer Vince Hoyumpa were in attendance to provide an update on delayed waste and recycling collection services from the company.
The session began with each council member expressing their frustrations with the service from Priority Waste, including that they each received calls, emails, text messages, messages on social media and in-person complaints from residents.
Ruthenberg said there are 10 additional units in Dearborn Heights helping with collection on top of the usual four trash, two recycling and two compost trucks normally used in the city.
“We have put 10 additional units in today to scope through the city,” he said. “Currently — I came from a command center that was set up in our yard in Romulus — we have all of the management of Priority Waste in that command center. We have trucks that are GPS’d and we are tracking them and moving them all over the city.”
Also, Ruthenberg said he expects there should some relief for residents who have been waiting for their pickup.
“We’re identifying areas, we’re running complaints and we’re doing everything that we humanly can to get Dearborn Heights settled down and get the residents service they deserve,” he said.
Priority Waste took over the city’s waste collection and disposal and recycling collection in March after the the City Council approved a five-year contract Dec. 14. The contract will run through March 19, 2027.
The city began the process of looking for a new waste management company following complaints from residents due to delayed or missed waste and recycling collection by GFL.
Council Chair Dave Abdallah said the customer service from Ruthenberg has been great, but that the Priority Waste service is inexcusable.
Councilman Ray Muscat addressed the representatives by saying this is the worst service he has ever seen. He also said he has spoken to Ruthenberg personally and was assured things would get done and get better.
At a May 24 council meeting, Muscat asked to pull the item where Priority Waste would be paid its $213,465 off the approved invoice list until it was caught up with collection.
When it came time to vote for fund transfers and current claims, the council approved it with a 6-1 vote. Muscat remained opposed.
Councilman Robert Constan asked when the city would be seeing improvements and pickups from Priority Waste.
“I think immediately, you’ll notice a difference even with where we’ve been today,” Ruthenberg said. “I know we are going to be coming back tomorrow and we’re gong to be doing the same thing until every complaint is addressed.”
Councilman Mo Baydoun has been vocal in his displeasure of Priority Waste’s service, saying he spoke to Ruthenberg May 14 on getting issues fixed, but has still received complaints from residents every day since.
On a personal level, Councilman Hassan Ahmad said his yard waste sat out for a week and began to smell, and that his recycling was still out there uncollected as of 5 p.m. on June 7.
Councilman Tom Wencel shared his similar experience, saying both his yard waste and recycling have been sitting on the curb since the last garbage day the previous week.
In terms of how senior citizens are impacted by the delayed collection, Councilwoman Nancy Bryer said the bad weather and recent rain has added to the pickup issues.
She said that when their trash and recycling isn’t picked up it falls in the middle of street causing the senior residents to go into the street and get remains while they wait for collection.
Baydoun asked for a date from the Priority Waste representatives that they were comfortable giving on when they would get the entire city back on track.
Hoyumpa said he has personally taken over operations of the Romulus yard which handles Dearborn Heights and other local cities.
“I’ve been working with all crews since 5 a.m. to diligently catch up and give you the service that you deserve,” he said. “Yes, we have not been able to pick up recycling or the bulk on a daily basis but we brought in extra crews who have been working through 7 p.m. and I’m pretty confident that everything that was scheduled to be picked up for today’s service has been serviced.”
He also said that any missed collection would be addressed June 8.
“My goal is to have you back on schedule — fully on schedule by this Friday,” Hoyumpa said. “If we are delayed, we will reach out to the mayor.”
Corporation Counsel Gary Miotke said he sent an email to Hoyumpa, who is also the in-house counsel for Priority Waste regarding the council’s concerns and possible penalties.
Miotke was directed to do so by city council at the May 24 meeting.
Every council member supported of sending the letter except Muscat, who said getting the company’s attention should be done by not paying them.
Hoyumpa confirmed he received the email, which is why he was in attendance at the study session to work out issues the city and residents have raised.
Several residents spoke during the public comment portions, asking their questions on Priority Waste’s pickup delays, planned contract penalties and service provided by Priority Waste employees.
Dearborn Heights residents Allen and Kim Bolash spoke regarding an alleged threat their family received that morning from a garbage truck driver.
Kim Bolash said that while sitting and having breakfast with the window open, the garbage truck was on the other side of the street and the driver was screaming and swearing because a rug or carpet that had to be picked up.
She said the driver finished that side of the street then turned around to service their house.
“So, he came around and he went to dump our garbage and one of the bags fell off the top,” Kim Bolash said.
The driver then started screaming again, saying, “‘You mother f***er should be shot. You’re stupid,’” Kim Bolash said. “I mean, just crazy.”
During her comments, Bolash said that her husband yelled out the window to tell the driver to watch his language and that there are children nearby. The driver allegedly kept screaming.
“So, he left and my husband said, ‘You know what? I’m going to get the truck number,’” Bolash said. “He got in our van and didn’t bother this man,” Kim Bolash said. “(Allen Bolash) went and took a picture of the back of the truck. It was truck 426. As this man sees this, he’s screaming and swearing some more, threatening my husband from the next block.”
Allen Bolash returned back home and said to call Priority Waste. As the couple was doing this, the garbage truck returned to the Bolash’s house, and the driver started screaming and taking pictures of the house and address, Kim Bolash said. She added that the driver said he was going to “take care” of them later, and said he was going to shoot them.
“After he said he was going to shoot us, we called the police,” Kim Bolash said.
The police said that because the man was gone, the Bolashes should call them if he returned, Kim Bolash said.
Council Chair Dave Abdallah said he gave their information and address to Emergency Management Coordinator Lee Gavin, who also is a former Heights police chief. Abdallah also said the director of Priority Waste already knew all the information as well.
According to a June 16 update from police, a report was not filed and no charges were filed. The update said Priority Waste is handling the situation.
Resident Rachel LaPointe asked how the city is planning to enforce penalties for missed collection, which are $50 for each house missed and not picked up within 24 hours, according to the city’s contract with the company.
Compliance numbers were not provided at the study session, but Priority Waste is keeping track through their system since they are taking calls from residents on missed pickups.
Abdallah said the complaints are being tracked by Priority Waste since they are able to take calls during business hours and days that city hall isn’t open.
Priority Waste also is able to notify employees for dispatch through its system when residents call to report a complaint, allowing them to address a missed collection directly.
To watch the entire study session go to the city’s YouTube page.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])