Task force to review town’s ‘picking’ policy

Town officials, residents air concerns about issues related to Recycling Center’s longtime practice

  • The Peterborough Select Board, town administrator, and public discussed the Recycling Center's practice of "picking."
  • The Peterborough Select Board, town administrator, and public discussed the Recycling Center's practice of "picking."
  • The Peterborough Select Board, town administrator, and public discussed the Recycling Center's practice of "picking."

PETERBOROUGH — Town Administrator Pamela Brenner presented several scenarios about a 30-year-old copper pot at the Select Board’s meeting Tuesday to illustrate her office’s concerns about the practice of “picking” at the Recycling Center.

In one scenario, a 53-year-old Peterborough resident tries to take home the pot, but the Recycling Center’s staff informs him it is being saved for someone who requested it first. The 53-year-old is unemployed, and sells junk he picks to supplement his income. Brenner said the unemployed man becomes “very frustrated,” because the staff is unfairly taking money out of his pocket.

In another scenario, a woman who depends on Social Security notices the pot has a French label. She plans to sell it on eBay for $150. When she can’t take home the pot because it was saved for someone else who asked for it first, the woman leaves with a very bitter taste in her mouth.

Finally, the pot is made of copper, Brenner said, which the town could profit from.

These are some of the concerns Brenner’s office would like to address as it relates to the Recycling Center, where a resident up until recently could ask the staff to keep a lookout and put aside a particular item for them. The town suspended this practice in July because they were concerned that saving an item for one resident was unfair to others in the community. The Select Board is putting together a community task force to review the matter.

“It’s a bigger issue than holding items for residents,” Brenner said.

Brenner and Rodney Bartlett, Peterborough’s director of public works, recommended the Select Board create a task force composed of five to seven selectmen and community members. The task force would be assigned with creating a formal policy for picking.

Selectman Tyler Ward volunteered to be on the task force. Recycling Center Manager Scott Bradford will also be on the task force. Select Board Chair Barbara Miller invited the public to call or email any of the selectmen if they would like to volunteer, too.

This summer, Bartlett put out a directive to the Recycling Center that they couldn’t set aside items for themselves or for residents during the time the staff was being paid by the town. Brenner said this directive came after several residents complained they perceived the Recycling Center showed favoritism with picking.

Before this directive, the Recycling Center had accepted requests from residents to look out for and put aside for them a discarded item.

Bradford said this ranged from canning jars to a replacement gutter to used three-ring binders. The staff picking for residents was a practice. Peterborough had no policy outlining rules and procedures for picking.

Bartlett, at the meeting Tuesday, praised the motive behind picking, but said he would like to draft a policy for this practice. For this reason, he offered several recommendations for policies the task force could consider. One option is keeping the status quo, or not changing picking at all. Another would allow the public to continue picking, but would restrict employees to picking for only a certain amount of time each day. Another option included separating piles the public could look through from long-term disposable piles off limits to the public. Bartlett also recommended considering not allowing the public to look through wood or metal piles because it is more dangerous He said the task force might find the public should not be allowed to pick at all.

Bartlett recommended the task force look broadly at a policy for picking, how they public accesses items for picking, public safety, and enforcing these policies.

In the meantime, the public can’t request the staff at the transfer station to look for and save items for them.

Bradford said this practice did not distract the staff from their responsibilities managing the Recycling Center. Bradford said they would receive between five to 20 of these requests each week. Bradford estimated picking for someone took away three minutes from their workday.

When Loretta Laurenitis, sitting in the audience, asked if this recent complaint was the only one Bradford had heard, he said that in his 14 years as manager it was.

Brenner said she has received other complaints besides the most recent incident that led to this directive. Brenner also said those complaining to her would not voice their concerns publicly or attend a public meeting. She indicated she was representing their interests, too.

Both Brenner and Miller said a portion of Peterborough’s population live at or below the federal poverty line. Miller said the town would like to give that population access to what they can at the swap shop. Brenner also said that while many residents in the Peterborough community are living paycheck-to-paycheck, the practice of reusing has gained popularity in mainstream culture.

Prior to Brenner’s explanation of the town’s concerns, many in attendance voiced their disapproval at not allowing the picking practice to remain as it’s been for so long. Some tried to address making the practice more fair. Others wondered about the value of some scrap metal, and if someone should be allowed to profit from it after they pick it.

Joe Brennan of Peterborough said he agreed with the rest of the comments, praising the Recycling Center. “If someone called in a bicycle for kid and can’t afford it, if Scott knows of it, puts it aside, I have no problem with it. I have talked to a lot of people. They don’t agree with it,” he said, referring to the directive to Recycling Center staff to stop saving items for people.

Brennan said the town made a mistake in stopping the practice, they should admit to this mistake, and move on. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said about the Recycling Center.

Andrea Caldwell of Peterborough said that while she is not opposed to a task force, “It almost feels like you’re imposing this on us.”

Bartlett and Miller said businesses commonly review their practices to improve them.

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