On May 19, 2021, Jack Haden emailed members of Baltimore’s tightly knit garbage-hauling fraternity about an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
“I am Sponsoring a Private fundraiser for Johnny O,” announced the owner of J&J Trash Removal, referring to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.
“Please come and enjoy some great food and talk to Johnny one on one,” Haden continued, giving directions to the fundraiser at the Cockeysville home of a business associate and adding that he’d be happy to “pick up a check” if the donor did not wish to make a payment online.
Featuring pit beef, pizza, wine, beer and soda, the event cost up to $625 per ticket, but was well worth it, Haden told his fellow haulers, noting, “It’s a critical time for us, and I believe Johnny is doing more for us than anyone has.”
NOTE: Olszewski’s office responded to this story after it was posted, denying that approval of the transfer station was influenced by political donations. See their full response below.
Olszewski – who’s up for reelection and faces little opposition in next month’s Democratic Party primary – would indeed be doing more for Haden, a Brew investigation has found.
Before the fundraiser was held, Haden’s proposal to build the first privately owned solid waste transfer station on Rolling Mill Road near the Eastpoint Mall was stalled.
The Bureau of Solid Waste Management had recommended against approval of the proposal, saying it was unnecessary when the county had excess transfer capacity. Similar proposals had been rejected in the past, most recently by a Pennsylvania businessman, William Rinaldi, who sought permission for a trash transfer station at Tradepoint Atlantic.
What’s more, Haden’s proposal would likely divert millions of dollars in “tipping fees” that the county collects (at $8 per ton) from commercial haulers. And that, in turn, could force property taxes to increase to make up for the shortfall, according to documents reviewed by The Brew.
On the Fast Track
Yet one day after the June 12, 2021 fundraiser, D’Andrea Walker, acting director of the Department Public Works and Transportation, began questioning the recommendation of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management, made in January, to turn down the transfer station.
Walker said she had been asked by “the CE” (county executive) to look into Haden’s request, which she noted in earlier correspondence was not approved by Solid Waste and was “on hold” pending a work group review of the county’s waste management plan.
But within weeks, Walker was speaking favorably about Haden’s Eagle Transfer Station proposal to Stacy L. Rodgers, the chief administrative officer.
“I think we need another option to get rid of trash besides in the landfills and Breaco,” Walker wrote on June 29, misspelling Baltimore’s BRESCO trash-burning plant. “This give us [sic] an additional option if it is successful.”
This was followed up by an email from Walker’s newly hired second-in-command, Lauren Buckler, who noted that “the CE has asked for a decision soon.”
At Olszewski’s request, Walker and Rodgers met with Haden on August 3. In a subsequent email to them, Haden complained that further delays would jeopardize his contract with the Canton Railroad regarding the sale of the land on Rolling Mill Road.
“We have to settle by September 10, 2021. We have decided to go ahead and purchase the property and hold our breath . . . We would however ask that you confirm (if you have) to us that the Administration, Public Works and Zoning are going to strongly recommend the approval of this site in the Ten Year Solid Waste Plan to the Council. If you do, I feel confident that you will get the votes to approve it.”
In discussing ways in which to move the project forward, Haden also told Walker and Rodgers, “I understand transparency, but the bigger the crowd the louder the noise.”
“I understand transparency, but the bigger the crowd the louder the noise” – Jack Haden in email to top county officials.
By mid-September, the Eagle Transfer Station Walker was approved by Walker, whose short tenure as Olszewski’s acting public works director was already seeing the mass exodus of senior staff recently detailed in The Brew.
(Walker could not become the permanent director because she lacked a charter-required engineering degree. A referendum item on the November ballot, if approved by voters, will allow Walker to become director by making her 10 years of experience in transportation and infrastructure management for the state and Prince George’s County a qualifier for the job.)
Over the next several months, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management called for reconsideration of the approval, but no to avail.
In December, the Olszewski administration sent the matter on to the Maryland Department of the Environment, a necessary step for Haden before he submits his private business plan for a state permit.
Flying under the radar after the county held a little-publicized public meeting in February, the plan will come before the Council at its next meeting on July 5.
The Council is called upon to the include the Eagle Transfer Station in the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan “in accordance with the requirements set forth in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 26.03.03.05.”
Nothing in the single-page resolution points out that, in approving the transfer station, the county will be altering a half-century of public ownership of its trash “flow” via municipal transfer stations.
The county currently has facilities in Halethorpe, Cockeysville and White March that accept trash from garbage trucks and transfer the waste to county landfills, the BRESCO plant or out-of-state destinations via tractor trailers. Commercial trash haulers have to pay a $8-per-ton “tipping fee” to use the facilities.
In documents reviewed by The Brew, the Olszewski administration has acknowledged that the county stood to lose more than $1.2 million in annual tipping fees from haulers who will be able to avoid the fees by using Haden’s facility.
What’s more, the county’s control of trash by private companies, which has traditionally kept down the cost of residential waste disposal, could well be disrupted if a hybrid model of municipal and private transfer stations develops in the county.
The county stands to lose over $1.2 million in annual tipping fees.
Finally, as engineer Stephen Lippy testified at the February public hearing, the county transfer stations have 1.2 million tons of capacity, but have never used more than 753,000 tons per year.
This leaves an excess capacity of 450,000 tons, or three times more than the Eagle Transfer Station (capped at 143,000 annual tons) would provide.
“Is the proposed station compatible with the principles, goals and actions of the Ten-Year Solid Waste Master Plan,” Lippy asked, saying the answer appeared to be “no,” given that “less and less solid waste” will be generated from households as a result of increased recycling and composting.
Blizzard of Contributions
It was this type of reasoning that led the Bureau of Solid Waste Management to recommend disapproval of the private transfer station on January 22, 2021.
But Haden, who co-owns with his brother six county garbage collection routes and processes demolition debris at his Baltimore Recycling Center, was nothing if not persistent.
Campaign finance records show Haden gave $2,500 to “Friends of John Olszewski Jr.” on December 10, 2020 – or a month after he had submitted his proposal to the bureau.
This was followed by a $3,000 contribution from Baltimore Recycling Center LLC in January, $2,500 from JSH Real Estate LLC in February, and $1,000 from his brother, James Haden, in May.
On June 12, 2021, he scaled up his fundraising efforts, inviting trash haulers to the fundraiser held at the Cockeysville home of building supplies contractor Domenic Petrucci (Haden himself lives in Carroll County).
From that event, The Brew was able to trace $8,500 more in contributions to Olszewski from Haden entities:
• $2,500 from J&J Trash Removal, which he co-owns with his brother.
• $2,500 from Baltimore Recycling Center LLC.
• $1,000 from Thomas Sisk, an Eagle Transfer employee.
• $2,500 from Terry’s Tag & Title Service, which is owned by his partner, Terry Smack.
By contributing through these different entities, Haden was able to exceed the state limit of $6,000 in contributions by an individual or entity during a four-year election cycle.
Meanwhile, Olszewski’s campaign committee did not declare any “in-kind contributions” by Haden or Petrucci for food and drink, which meant that the event was truly “private” – as Haden had promised in his invitation to fellow trash haulers.
No reference to the fundraiser can be found in Olszewski’s finance report filed with the State Board of Elections.
A reference to the Haden fundraiser cannot be found anywhere in Olszewski’s finance report to the State Elections Board.
In addition to the $17,500 to Olszewski that The Brew traced back to Haden and his affiliated companies, the fundraiser yielded at least $18,400 more, according to the dates listed for contributor checks that coincided with the event.
The owners of trash haulers Cockey’s Enterprises, A&S Refuse and Robert Spindle joined with Republic Services, Shelz Sanitation, Goode Companies, JW Anderson, The Shred Mill and others in ponying up cash at the event.
Some paid the minimum price of $300 single or $400 a couple, but the average contribution was closer to $1,000, with a few ascending to the Silver Level of $2,500 for a chance to talk “one on one” with the county executive.
The Brew sent written questions this morning to Haden, Olszewski, Rodgers and Walker, asking if the campaign contributions influenced the county’s approval of the Eagle Transfer Station.
Erica Palmisano, spokesman for the county executive, said she would need at least until the end of the day to gather information. The other parties have not responded.
Here are responses by the county executive through his spokesperson:
Q: Did the contributions by Haden and others influence the administration’s decision to approve the transfer station, which had been rejected by the Bureau of Solid Waste Management?
A: No. Baltimore County leadership does not make decisions based on political contributions.
Q: Why is the Eagle Transfer proposal beneficial to county citizens and taxpayers?
A: The amount of solid waste that the County must landfill, incinerate or transfer out has increased by more than 50% over the last three years. This problem has been exacerbated by the current inability of the BRESCO incinerator to receive all of the tonnage the County is contracted to send. As the landfill is projected to reach capacity by 2027, there is an urgent need to increase our ability to transfer more trash out of the County.
Michael Beichler, chief of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management, was one of the last senior members at public works under Walker’s tenure. He retired in February, days after the virtual public hearing, according to county records.
Asked why his office had rejected Haden’s proposal – and why it was later approved by the administration – he declined to comment.
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