General manager of troubled garbage hauler resigns

Rick Downey was hired to turn The Ratto Group around, but walked away days before the City Council will take up a scathing audit.|

Rick Downey, the general manager of beleaguered Santa Rosa garbage hauler The Ratto Group, resigned last week, just days before the City Council will review a scathing audit of the company.

Downey, who was hired late last year to turn the company around, informed city and county officials of his decision Friday, citing broken promises.

“Unfortunately for me, certain promises that were made haven’t matched promises kept,” Downey wrote in an email to more than a dozen officials.

Downey said in an interview he accepted the job under two conditions. One was that Jim Ratto continue to fund the company, and the other was that Ratto “stay out of the way” when it came to day-to-day operations.

Ratto, who is 76, kept his side of the bargain for about six months, but then he “started telling people what to do,” Downey said.

“That undermines me,” he said.

Without sole operational authority, Downey said it became impossible for him to make promises to public officials if he wasn’t sure he could deliver, and he wasn’t going to put his credibility at risk.

“I’m not going to be the one who gets caught in the middle,” Downey said.

Downey was hired away from Republic Services, where he ran the Sonoma County landfill during a time of transition.

His departure comes at a crucial time for the company owned by Ratto. The largest garbage hauler on the North Coast is facing stiff fines for excessive garbage and permit problems related to its Santa Rosa recycling centers.

It has also seen its revenue from the sale of bulk recyclables plunge as the market for such material has imploded.

And a 42-page audit of its operations found numerous alleged violations of its contract with the city, where it serves about 48,000 homes and businesses under the name Santa Rosa Recycling and Collection.

The financial, operational and managerial shortcomings cited in the audit - including operating a fleet of aging garbage trucks, not recycling to minimum levels and failing to answer customers’ calls promptly - were so substantial that city staff is recommending the contract not be renewed when it comes up next year.

The company has responded by noting its rates are low, customer satisfaction levels are high and previous audits have shown few significant issues. Downey previously said some issues cited in the audit were legitimate while others were overblown or inaccurate.

The company has prepared a detailed response to the audit, which the council will have in hand before its Tuesday meeting.

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