Tensions ran high during the Oct. 7 Toledo City Council meeting as Mayor Jerry Pratt and City Clerk Michelle Whitten defended themselves against what they called unprofessional and uncouth accusations by sewer company Blue Array.
Their statements came before and during a presentation by Blue Array, in which the company sought to explain the cost savings of their portable wastewater treatment technology and the ways they could potentially be a benefit to the city.
"As for me, Mr. Reilly has lost all credibility and trust," said Pratt to the council, referencing a series of accusatory emails sent by Blue Array CEO and co-owner James Reilly. "It’s the most unprofessional act I’ve ever dealt with in 11 years in this office."
In the messages, sent last month, Reilly asks City Hall to send an email to the mayor and council members inviting them to tour Blue Array’s test facility in Vader. Whitten replied it is not city policy to email officials, as strict public disclosure laws could otherwise open their personal emails and computer files to undue scrutiny.
Whitten offered to send invitations through the post office, and Reilly replied he saw this alternative as a deliberate attempt to oppose Blue Array’s efforts to market itself to Toledo, and made such statements as "I am impressed with your ability to be uncooperative," and "whatever you are being paid to behave this way, you should demand twice as much. Impressive indeed!"
Reilly then acquired the emails of council members and messaged them himself Sept. 18, crediting their acquisition falsely to Whitten.
"This would not be a company that I would endorse, trust, or want to be involved with," Whitten told the council prior to Blue Array’s presentation, characterizing Reilly’s exchanges with the city as based on bullying tactics and an unwillingness to accept differing perspectives. "He wants you to think only his information is correct, even though he does not know all the ins and outs of our system, or what has taken place over the last several years."
After being reproofed by Whitten, Reilly stated he agreed his statements had been unprofessional and said part of his emails had been misinterpreted attempts at humor. When he asked if Whitten would accept an apology on his behalf, she stated she would not.
During Blue Array’s presentation, Reilly and co-owner Victoria Jelderks explained they would like to test their system for a number of months in Toledo, similar to what has taken place in Vader since last year where Blue Array’s technology is acting as a pretreatment for Vader’s aging lagoon plant.
Pratt said Toledo’s lagoons need more than just a filter but also a new pump house, repairs to the road leading up to the plant, as well as new liners for the lagoons, all of which could cost around $400,000. Pratt asked if Blue Array’s offer of a free sewer plant would include those upgrades at no cost to the city, to which Reilly did not provide a direct answer but stated he did not believe Toledo would be using its money wisely on a new $9.6 million plant if Blue Array is so much less expensive.
Reilly again asserted a test of Blue Array’s system in Toledo would come with no charge to the city and no long-term commitment, and said the city could feel free to go with an entirely new plant if they did not like the results of the test.
However, the council was cautioned by Department of Ecology representative Greg Zentner that Toledo could lose the $6.4 million in grants they have acquired for the project if they wait too long to begin construction, as he said other cities in the state could use the money. He added Toledo could try applying during the next funding cycles if they were not yet ready to build, but would have no guarantee of funding.
Zentner also stated, in response to a question from Council Member Carol Hill, Toledo is not in a position to lose their grants in spite of Reilly’s insistence he can prove the city does not need a new plant. Reilly has said, based on his analysis, Toledo will not need a new plant for at least several more years and, thus, does not qualify for the grants.
But Zentner and other officials have said their review of the same information shows Toledo followed all state guidelines in their process of exploring sewer treatment upgrade options and the city has not violated any rules or regulations they are aware of.
After the presentation, Toledo officials expressed rather directly they have no desire to do business with Toledo, and had asked them to present as a matter of courtesy. Council Member Guy Spratt even stated he had been intending to visit the Blue Array plant in Vader until their presentation that night.
Once proper permits for construction are acquired, Pratt has said he expects to send the project out for bids within the next month, with Blue Array competitor Gray & Osborne likely submitting an estimate for the project.