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A Christmas Tree Story
For this page we will be utilizing an allegorical story of goodwill on the part
of a small community and how their good intentions are hijacked by one of
their own with her own good intentions. The problem lies not in the
individual's intentions or actions, but in the leaders who abdicate their
responsibilities to this individual. The result is that the community's
original good will is threatened and their trust betrayed.
Christmas trees are, by definition, a symbol of the Yule time. They are also symbolic
of what is holding back the Anchorage community recycling rate. Understanding the
problems of how we currently recycle Christmas trees may help us in our journey to a
healthier environment through more effective recycling. To explain the underlying
Christmas tree issue, it may be best to use a metaphoric example. Once the concept
is explained, direct conversion to the specific tree recycling facts will be in order.
Imagine a church organizes a "poor box" to help the less fortunate and $15,000 is
raised. The same church members who raised the donations assure givers that the
maximum amount of good would be accomplished with every single dollar. A small
group of respected elders would volunteer to watch over the funds and conduct an
open accounting. The larger church board approves the plan.
|The Good Hearted People Have a Good Idea
To maximize the number of hungry fed, an emphasis would be given to bringing
sacks of flour (whole grain, of course), potatoes, milk, and other basic staples to
large families with cooking facilities. Lower priority would go to the single bachelor
with no cooking skills and requiring pre-cooked meals, although even their needs
would be met if possible. Church volunteers would be assigned routes to deliver the
food to different locations using their personal cars and own gas. Under this agreed
upon scenario the maximum number of people would be well fed with the available
Imagine now that the above plan goes instead more like the following: a wealthy and enthusiastic member of the congregation goes to the
priest (Father Maguire) and convinces him to let her alone distribute the $15,000 to the town's poor. After all, she has cheerleading
experience and can rally support. Imagine now she hires a stretch limousine and a chauffeur to drive to Costco to buy at wholesale food for the
poor. Shortly she realizes that the heavy sacks of flour and potatoes will be too heavy for the limo so she switches to lighter fair such as potato
chips and gourmet chocolates. After the shopping, she and the chauffeur pick up banner signs for the limo and embossed business cards all
of which say "this food brought to you by the generous benevolence of Father Maguire and me".
They strike up a band of TV, radio, and print media types hungry for a mid-winter story. The media join in (for a price, of course) the chants led
by the cheerleader and the priest. Thus, the community as a whole is convinced that the maximum number of people are being fed
wholesome food and the good intentions of the church members are being met. Accolades and kudos are handed out all around.
|The Good Idea is Hijacked
Imagine now that you are one of the contributing church members and you ask to see the reports of detailed food purchase and delivery. You
are told that the program was changed, that the elders were not consulted and in fact are no longer part of the process. You learn that at best
only $5,000, not $15,000 worth of food made it to the poor. You raise your hand and quietly whisper to Father Maguire and Ms. Cheerleader
your concerns. They ignore you and the same thing happens the next year, and the next, etc. Meanwhile, it becomes increasingly difficult to get
the congregation to contribute the $15,000. They become more frustrated that only a fraction of the needy are being served by the $15,000.
However, the cheerleader and the priest are popular and good speakers, and implore the flock to reach deeper.
At some point your conscience won't let you ignore the situation any longer. You speak to the church board, pointing out, for example, that the
stretch limo was not necessary since congregation members were willing to donate their own cars and gas. And yes, some poor people were
served, but if the guidelines worked out by the whole church community and approved by the church board had been followed, three times as
many poor would have been served. Both Father Maguire and the cheerleader suggest the following: Poor people receive food because of the
hard work these two pubic servants perform. No one else was doing it, so they "took leadership positions in order to move events forward". In
reality, the only reason others were not participating is because Ms. Cheerleader had already gone in the 'back door' and convinced Father
Maguire to entrust the entire fund to her. The money was not available to others, even those who had additional good ideas.
In response to your inquiries, Father Maguire and Ms. Cheerleader begin a whisper campaign suggesting that although you mean well, you
have never been quite right since you fell on your head. After all, whom do you trust, the priest and the faithful servant or you , the one who may
not have entirely recovered from a bump to the head when you were young. So every time you raise your hand more rumors from the
established order begin to fly. Each time the rumors become more colorful. You are further warned that if you go to the whole congregation you
risk being ex-communicated. And some of the church members are individually powerful in the community. They will be persuaded that you are
evil and a threat to social order. You may lose your job, your house, and your 401k plan. In the meantime, Father Maguire and the cheerleader
continue to give each other accolades and increase their political capital.
|The Spoilsport Gets "His Due"
In our story, the church of course represents our Anchorage community.
In our story, the church of course represents our Anchorage community.
recycling as effectively as possible with the given financial resources. We
The desire to help the poor is representative of our desire to increase
want the biggest bang for the buck. The church member activism is
representative of positive activism that has actually taken place in our
community (see sidebar), and Father Maguire is City Hall. The
Cheerleader represents ALPAR and other "recyclers" claiming to be
moving us forward towards sustainable recycling while "administering"
the public funds handed to them. You can guess who the spoilsport is.
|The Anchorage Community Rallies for Recycling
In 1997 the Anchorage Recycling Center shut down.
Spontaneous public meetings occurred. The Anchorage
Assembly authorized funding for a professional facilitator
to coordinate meetings, which drew as many as 400
participants. It was a classic community journey with many
voices. In 2000 the Assembly unanimously passed the
official plan labeled "MOA Waste Reduction and
The foundation of the plan was the provision to set aside
$1.00 every time a ton of garbage was buried in the landfill.
The only exception was to be if the waste generator
received free dumping at the landfill. The dollars were to
go into a special fund used primarily to promote new
recycling hatchlings. A Request for Proposals was issued
to the community, inviting citizens to submit 50-50
challenge grant proposals, also known as matching grants.
A group of citizens were selected to weigh all the
proposals and select the ones having the most realistic
chance of becoming permanent recycling entities. After
funding, the recipients were to report on their projects,
with the results available to any interested person. A
history to build on and from which to learn.
Priority was to be given to re-manufacturing trash into
something useful here in Anchorage. For example, clean
glass into sandblasting media, or horse manure and organic
construction debris into compost.
The point being that the material would be made here and
jobs would be created here. No single project was to be
funded for more than two years. The plan worked for a
while, and community recycling appeared to be building.
After a while, however, the same entities and projects
appear to be the exclusive recipients of the grants, which
were no longer considered matching grants. Reference a
summary document from the office of the Municipal
Director of Sustainability.
The Christmas tree recycling story is only $15,000 of public funds
annually but if we get this right it can make up to $10,000,000 available
for true community recycling. Here's how: In 2000 our Assembly passed
the Waste Reduction and Recycling Plan. Certain procedures and
transparency were built into the plan. Selected proposer was to
contribute 50% of the project total with the other 50% coming from the
grant program (see sidebar). Roughly $300,000 per year since 2000
should have been available, or $2,000,000 plus since its inception. The
annual ALPAR Christmas tree recycling amount is indeed a small
percentage, but it is symbolic of what has gone awry as well as how to fix
Yes, some money was properly spent keeping trees out of the garbage,
but we think that it could have been accomplished just as well, if not
better, for $5,000, not $15,0000. Instead of the rules and procedures laid
out in the 2000 Recycling Plan we have seen the $300,000 annual
community intended and decided. Basically only a fraction of the
expected benefit has resulted from the $2,000,000 and it is directly
related to the fact the rules have been ignored. Since City Hall has been
occupied by the Begich administration, the orientation has changed from
community based self help recycling to a wholesale change of the rules
resulting in the majority of the money and energy going into self
promotion of "Father Maguire" (City Hall) and "the Cheerleader" (ALPAR).
The grant program has devolved into an unlawful "political slush fund"
doled out to political cronies instead of talented people and viable
iniiatives. All pretense of following rules disappeared, and with it, most
sustainable recycling in our community.
We think there should be an audit of the per revenue ton fund and how it
is currently spent, including the recycling grant program. We think that the
grant program should either be returned to its original state prior to 2003
or it should be reviewed again by the community and the assembly and
perhaps improved. Specifically, we think that several of the original
characteristics of the program should be restored: transparency, dollar
amount caps, limitation to a number of years in a row a project can be
funded, and a focus on initiative rather than public relations.
The Anchorage community may have heard of the lawsuit filed by Pete
Kinneen and Environmental Recycling, Inc. against the Municipality and
particular Municipal employees. One count of the suit, Count IV, is
directly related to the recycling grant program management. It is
important to note that neither Mr. Kinneen nor ERI would benefit
financially from successfully litigating Count IV. It is filed on behalf of the
community, and success would result in restoration of the mis-managed
recycling funds to the community.