Shredded Paper Is Debated
At the April 7 meeting of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, board members debated at length concerning the topic of shredded paper.
Authority member Steve Conlon explained to the board that he and his wife, Ellie, had been repeatedly encouraged to pick up shredded paper. “Now Mark (Authority Member Cochran) has decided this is an ethics violation, because I am a board member and I am accepting shredded paper and using that paper in my business.”
“My position on it is that if I was accepting something of value then of course there would be questions. What I am accepting has no value,” Conlon said.
It was noted that the shredded paper is worth approximately $110 a ton.
“I am profiting $52 in shredded paper, something none of you want,” Conlon said.
He added, “The interesting thing, I look at all the recycling things we do. They all cost money. It costs us money to pick up shredded paper. We use public funds to pick up shredded paper, use public funds to pick up glass. Then we pay to have the glass removed.”
Conlon argued that his recommendation would be that the board stop picking up shredded paper rather than taking it to Goodwill, which would have been the alternative to Conlon using the paper.
“They pay us nothing for it,” he said of Goodwill.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to spend money, pick up shredded paper, and then drive it to Goodwill. Our relationship with Goodwill is kind of tainted, because they won’t pick up the cardboard. There is cardboard in dumpsters all around town.”
Executive Director of the WCSWA, Terri Tyler, remarked that the board doesn’t make money from anything they collect.
Tyler said she had brought the topic, of Conlon’s use of shredded paper, to the board’s attention before. “I went to auditor training. As a board member, you cannot profit.” Tyler said Conlon was profiting because he uses the shredded paper for his personal business, so he doesn’t have to buy packing material.
“It doesn’t make it right for this board to use public funds to pick up paper and then for us to let you use have it,” she said.
Tyler told Conlon that taking the paper and using it would be an ethics violation. “You cannot profit personally by being a board member,” she reiterated.
Conlon said he has never filed an expense report.
“I’m a real bargain. As a board member, I come cheap. I’m not making any money off of you. If you give the product to me, I reuse it. If you give it to Goodwill, they recycle it. I’m higher on the chain of desirability,” Conlon said.
“This shredded paper that Steve gets comes from our school system. We pay a man and provide him with a vehicle and trailer to get this paper, to collect it from the school system and bring it back. That means we have incurred a public expense. We are giving someone the paper for private gain,” Cochran said.
He added, “I cannot conceive of a more clear-cut, concise example. We can give the paper to Goodwill because they are non-profit. We can give it to Pleasants County Solid Waste Authority.”
Cochran advised his fellow board members to turn focus their attention on a copy of the Ethics Act he had given each of them.
“The basic underlying code of conduct is that those in public service must use their positions for the benefit of the public and not for their own private gain or private gain of another.”
“Simply reimburse the authority for the market value of this paper and everything is okay, but we cannot continue giving this to you. It makes us all guilty of violating this laws,” Cochran said.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to it any longer. We are jeopardizing our grants. We have public funds involved in this before we get it,” he said.
“The problem with your calculation is that if you have 40,000 pounds of shredded paper bailed in a trailer, you can get $110 a ton, but if you have 10 bags every two weeks, it isn’t worth jack,” Conlon said.
Conlon’s wife, Ellie, noted that she was encouraged to pick up the shredded paper.
“Many phone calls have come from this office, for me to come get shredded paper,” she said.
“Now we realize what we are doing, what is wrong,” Cochran replied.
Ellie asked if she could go to the school board, library, lawyer’s office, and other businesses to get paper on her own time.
“That would be fine,” Cochran said.
Ellie noted that she didn’t understand what the big deal was about the way Conlon was picking up the paper before.
“It is an ethics violation, if someone chooses to file an ethics violation,” Tyler noted.
Mark D. Holstine, Executive Director of the West Virginia Solid Waste Management Board was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting. He was asked his thoughts on the matter.
“The fact that we’ve argued over it for 15 minutes shows that it has a value,” he noted.
Benjamin Freeman, of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, was asked his opinion on the matter.
“I don’t think this is as complicated, and I would tend to agree that if you wrote a check that it’d be fine. Where the value comes in is not necessarily what the paper is worth on the open market but its value specifically to you in that instead of having to go buy packing material, you are getting it and the cost is to the board,” Freeman said.
Freeman said he would “totally agree” if private citizens want to pick up shredded paper from the schools themselves.
“I think the problem is the position on this board and the fact that you are using it to save costs, not necessarily using it to add profit but saving it on the front end.”
Freeman suggested Conlon not take the paper for free, to figure out a value for the paper, or to “just not use it.”
“I don’t think there is anything that can be done here. It is the fact that basically between the disposal of the paper and the using of the paper, you are sort of in the line of transaction there. If you took yourself out of the line, I think you are fine.”