In the hot seat, Republic Services shakes up local management

The gist: Republic Services’ local general manager is no longer running Lafayette operations, after the garbage contractor came under fire this summer for shoddy service and leaky trucks. For more than a decade, the Arizona-based company has been consolidated government’s trash collector, the beneficiary of a lucrative contract that’s been under intense scrutiny in recent months. 

Get caught up, quickly: Councilwoman Liz Hebert, frustrated at the onslaught of complaints her constituents had been lodging with her and the council office, put Republic General Manager Steve Sytsma in the hot seat at an August council meeting. Sytsma struggled to come up with plausible answers and at times appeared to be less than truthful, particularly when questioned by Hebert and Councilman Pat Lewis about the availability of replacement carts and lids. Lewis had personally visited the company’s office the Friday before the meeting and was told the company had no inventory of new lids and carts. 

Hebert has called for the contract to be canceled. Since the August meeting, the councilwoman has had three follow-up visits with the company. During the most recent, on Sept. 24, she was informed that Sytsma is no longer general manager. She was told that it was his decision to return home to Michigan but could not get a straight answer on whether he is still employed by Republic. 

As of that meeting, Sytsma had not yet been replaced, Hebert says (the open position was posted on Republic’s website on Sept. 27 and is still being advertised). Mike Parham, who serves as southeast area director of operations for Republic in Marietta, Ga., has been flying in weekly, she says. Also, she was informed that Chuck LaGrange was hired as the new government liaison (or municipal sales manager) for Republic’s regional operations, a position most recently held by Beth Guidry. 

Sytsma has been tight-lipped all summer. The former GM, who has not commented since The Current began reaching out to him in July, did not respond to an email about his status with the company. 

In response to a Sept. 13 inquiry about Sytsma and whether his (then-unconfirmed) departure from Lafayette was related to problems with the LCG contract, Republic’s corporate communications would only say that “Steve is still with Republic Services.” The company has yet to respond to questions in follow-up emails; an Oct. 8 inquiry also asked Republic to confirm whether the operations manager, Kunta Taylor, was among those who recently left the local office. 

Taylor did not respond to a Facebook message. 

Taylor, whose position was also posted on Sept. 27 and is still being advertised, isn’t being replaced, Republic told Hebert. Hebert says she was informed at the Sept. 24 meeting that Lafayette and Lake Charles are now permanently sharing an operations manager. 

Complaints supposedly weren’t reaching corporate. Hebert was told complaints about Sytsma’s management style and lack of attention to ongoing problems in Lafayette weren’t making their way up the corporate ladder. “They keep telling me, ‘we are embarrassed, we are embarrassed. We had no clue until we got down here for the council meeting,’” Hebert says of her discussions with higher level representatives from Republic. “They did not know, allegedly did not know.”

Hebert says responsiveness has improved. “Since Chuck came in, all the cans on my list have been replaced,” says the councilwoman, who posted to her campaign Facebook page a list of approximately 150 constituents who have been awaiting replacements. She says some of the streets in her district are being cleaned of oil spills and trash juice. 

So, does she still want to see the contract canceled? “Let’s see how they do,” Hebert says.