By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
A decades-long monopoly was shattered Tuesday when Miramar agreed to let an upstart company handle its waste disposal.
Homeowners and businesses in Miramar will see millions of dollars in savings over the existing waste hauling agreement with Wheelabrator Technologies.
It was the first competitive bid disposal contract in the largest Broward cities in more than 25 years.
“You brought competition into the marketplace,” Phil Medico, an executive with the low bidder Sun/Bergeron that toppled Wheelabrator’s monopoly, told commissioners.
The commission voted 5-0 to accept the low bid Tuesday despite furious lobbying by Wheelabrator and its giant parent, Waste Management.
City Manager Robert A. Payton will soon begin contract negotiations with Sun/Bergeron. If successful, the contract will come back to the city commission for a final award. If not, the city could then negotiate with Wheelabrator.
Once finalized, Miramar’s decision means other Broward cities will have the option to piggyback on its deal. They can also search for their own deal.
Wheelabrator has since the 1980s held a lock on trash disposal in 80 percent of Broward cities with a contract that is due to expire in July 2013.
Wanting to continue its monopoly, the company two years ago offered a no-bid deal that would have extended its control of the disposal business through at least 2023. But a number of cities, including Fort Lauderdale and Miramar rejected the deal as insufficient and anti-competitive, and the county commission ultimately did, too.
The failure of the deal dealt a heavy blow to Broward’s Resource Recovery Board, which has pushed hard for it.
Miramar stepped forward to become the first local government to competitively bid disposal services.
Only Wheelabrator and Sun/Bergeron submitted bids. Wheelabrator’s bid was $52.50 per ton, compared with Sun/Bergeron’s $43.25 per ton.
Several Miramar officials noted that the competitive process lowered the bid considerably from the no-bid deal originally offered by Wheelabrator. That agreement had Miramar paying $65.10 per ton climbing up to $140.21 per ton over 10 years.
County waste administrators sat in the Miramar audience Tuesday monitoring the vote, along with officials from other cities.
Broward entrepreneur Ron Bergeron, a partner in Sun/Bergeron, said his company would now consider bidding for other contracts among the cities that Wheelabrator serves.
Up to the last minute, Wheelabrator fought to overturn its competitor’s low bid. Bill Roberts, the company’s vice president for operations, reminded commissioners that the company owns two waste-to energy plants in Broward County and has a local payroll of millions.
One of the partners in Sun/Bergeron is from outside Broward — Palm Beach County’s Sun Recycling.
“We’re part of Broward County,” Roberts countered.
But commissioners said they were impressed by Sun/Bergeron’s plan to recycle 25 percent of the waste rather than burn it, in addition to its cheaper price.
Sun/Bergeron’s Medico promised commissioners that the price they offered would not increase over the five years of the contract.
Miramar sought bid proposals from March until June. Seven companies expressed interest, but only two submitted proposals
City staff conducted an in-depth financial analysis. An evaluation team made up of executives from five different cities evaluated and, in December, ranked the proposals.
While city officials said the process followed all the rules, Waste Management has hinted that it may protest the decision.
“Its one of our options,” Wheelabrator’s Roberts said.
Wheelabrator and Sun/Bergeron had bid protest legal experts in the audience observing the vote and taking notes.
Miramar officials used words like “rare” and “revolutionary” to describe the competitive process.
“It had an impact,” said Verne Hargrey, assistant Miramar city manager, summing up the comments of the four city waste experts who addressed commissioners.
By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
City manager's association president Bruce Loucks as seen through a crack in the door during Thursday's not quite closed-door meeting
Broward’s top city and county managers regularly meet in secret to discuss public business, formulate policy and even negotiate contracts.
Five of them currently are hammering out a $1 billion contract for waste disposal for much of the county with the help of a single company, trash giant Waste Management, which wants the work. They are doing this without taking any public discussion or comment
A no bid-deal like that would affect disposal rates for most of the county’s residents and businesses.
When two Broward Bulldog reporters tried to attend Thursday’s Broward City County Management Association (BCCMA) meeting in Sunrise they were told to leave.
Questioned before the doors were shut, association president Bruce Loucks, the city manager in Cooper City, said the meeting was closed to the public.
“We’re not elected officials,” said Loucks, referring to the open meeting requirements of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law. “This is a manager’s association.”
Asked again if reporters could attend on the public’s behalf, Loucks said flatly, “No. You’re not coming in.”
The Sunshine Law does not generally apply to private organizations like the low-profile BCCMA. Still, the law’s broad access requirements have been held to apply when such groups are delegated governmental functions or play an “integral” role in the decision-making process, according to a 2009 Attorney General’s legal opinion.
Broward Bulldog filed public records requests with several cities today in an attempt to determine if the managers have crossed the line
GOVERNMENT OUT OF THE SUNSHINE?
The managers’ meeting was a catered luncheon at the Sunrise Civic Center’s Grand Ballroom, a glass and stone structure surrounded by decorative fountains with rooms featuring crystal chandeliers and plush chairs. It is not known who paid for the event, but at least one city employee – from Parkland – helped check-in attendees.
Other city managers that showed up included Lee Feldman of Fort Lauderdale, Bruce Moeller of Sunrise, John Stunson of Oakland Park and John Flint of Weston. Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry was also present.
The BCCMA is a private association whose dues-paying members run Broward’s municipalities. Those eligible for membership include city managers, other municipal officers and corporate executives “engaged in a business relationship with a local government,” according to its web site.
The association’s meeting agenda was confidential, and its discussions were private. But its web site identifies a dozen “key” economic and political issues including development, the escalating costs of providing police and fire services, and waste management.
Trash disposal has been a recent focus, according to records made public by other governmental bodies.
For example, minutes from the most recent meeting of the county’s Resource Recovery Board show that Weston City Manager appeared before the board to describe how the association is working to craft a contract that may be used to seal the immense, no-bid trash disposal deal with Waste Management.
Such a pact could squeeze out a competitor who has offered lower rates that would be less costly to businesses and residents.
The company’s Wheelabrator Technologies subsidiary has had a decades-long monopoly over waste disposal for about 80 percent of Broward’s cities. That monopoly is set to expire next year.
“The city manager’s group met with Wheelabrator on a number of occasions, and have reached an agreement, with the exception of two points: they have not agreed upon a price and they have yet to select a term,” the minutes say.
INSIDERS PLAYING THE SYSTEM
The RRB, as it is known in the industry, is the governing body of Broward’s Solid Waste Disposal District. Its nine members are elected officials from eight cities and the county.
Flint has been trying to extend Wheelabrator’s contract behind closed doors despite attempts by a competitor, Sun/Bergeron, to offer competitive bids.
Weston City Manger John Flint, left, and Cooper City City Manager Bruce Loucks
He told the board the managers’ association was preparing to circulate the draft agreement negotiated with Wheelabrator to “city officials throughout the county.”
Flint bristled when asked before Thursday’s city manager association meeting meeting if the new no-bid waste contract would be discussed in private again that day.
“I have nothing to say,” he said before adding, “I don’t know yet.”
UPSETTING BUSINESS AS USUAL
The county commission in December 2010 rejected a 10-year, $1.5 billion no-bid proposal with Wheelabrator after cities said the negotiated rates were too high.
Outrage over how that deal was pushed led Miramar to go out for bids on its own. It received lower prices. The low bidder was Sun/Bergeron, but the city has yet to award a contract that other cities might want to piggyback on. Broward Bulldog has learned Miramar commissioners will convene a special meeting about the bid on March 20 at 6 p.m.
The managers’ talks with Wheelabrator have been going on quietly for more than a year. The idea was to develop an alternative in case Miramar’s bid faltered.
Flint told the Resource Recovery Board in January the new contract is an improvement on the original Wheelabrator proposal because it eliminates risk to the county.
For reasons that have not been explained, Sun/Bergeron was excluded from that process and a company representative was turned away from an earlier association meeting.
“What they are doing is not open government,” said Phil Medico, lawyer for Sun/Bergeron.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Hallandale Beach City Manager Mark Antonio
An outside auditing firm did not review more than $20 million in Hallandale Beach vendor contracts because the city failed to provide the information and limitations on the scope of the audit.
Auditors mention the large deficiency in an updated audit report to be presented to the city commission for review on Wednesday.
The initial draft audit, obtained by Broward Bulldog six months ago, stated that Hallandale Beach had failed to properly track business transactions made by the City Commission controlled Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
The city hired the Fort Lauderdale auditing firm Marcum Rachlin in August 2010 to inspect three years of vendor contracts that should have totaled $29.2 million. But the vendor contract file city officials turned over to the auditors for review only included contracts for a one year period totaling $8.9 million, the report says.
Auditors later discovered the discrepancy, but by then the terms of the scope of the review had been set and “Marcum’s procedures were limited to reviewing the vendor contracts that were included on the original listing provided by the city,” the report says.
The city is paying $60,000 for the audit.
Mayor Joy Cooper and City Manager Mark Antonio, who were critical of last summer’s draft audit, did not make themselves available to explain the discrepancy, despite repeated requests for interviews.
The city issued a press release late Friday that hailed the audit’s findings, but does not mention that more than two-thirds of the city’s vendor contracts were not audited.
“I am pleased that once all the information was reviewed by the auditors, the results show that city has and continues to follow best business practices,” said Antonio.
Of what auditors could check, a number of the key problems have been rectified but others remain, according to the updated report.
“It shows that the city does not have its financial house in order or doesn’t care about finances,” City Commissioner Keith London said.
London pointed the finger at the administration for an audit he said was “half-done…botched.”
“The city did not provide the information. We can’t blame the auditors; we got to blame the city,” he said. “It’s either incompetence or intentional, either way it’s unacceptable.”
London said he will ask his fellow commissioners to re-hire Marcum Rahlin to review the un-audited $20 million in contracts with vendors.
Auditors stated in both the initial and updated reports that the firm was retained to review procedures applied in vendor contracts between Oct. 1, 2007 and Sept., 30, 2010.
The review covered 136 vendor contracts totaling $8.9 million. The report does not say how many vendor contracts are involved in the additional $20 million in contracts.
Of the contracts it reviewed, auditors concluded there appeared to be proper approvals.
CITY SUSPECTED PROBLEMS
Questions about CRA business transactions came to a headafter former City Manager Mike Good was fired by the city commission in June 2010 after chronic absences from work. News reports stated an uncommunicative work style and questionable contracts also were cited as reasons for Good’s dismissal.
Commissioners asked for the audit a few weeks later. Marcum Rachlin was tasked with conducting “an extensive review of the city’s land acquisition program, developer agreements, the awarding of vendor contracts, and CRA expenditures and commercial loan programs,” according to Friday’s press release.
After the initial draft audit was made public six months ago, the city asked the firm to continue working and to revise the report.
The auditors’ updated version lessened some of the problematic findings, but some of the observations regarding land acquisitions and loans to businesses showed continued issues in record keeping.
The updated report cleared previously mentioned problems involving developer agreements with the city.
Regarding loans to businesses, totaling $1.5 million as of June 2010, the report said all agreements reviewed had been properly executed; no loans exceeded the prescribed interest rate; and only two loans did not adhere to a 15 percent forgiveness rate in repaying the city’s money. Those numbers were much higher in the first draft report. The report also said there were various documents still missing in 31 loan files.
The new audit reported progress regarding the location of missing land acquisition documents, as well as some continuing issues.
* Files for 30 acquired properties that were initially thought to be missing were located, but the files for 13 other properties that were later sold could not be found.
* The number of property acquisition files reviewed dropped to 40 from 49 after the files of some properties were accounted for. But 39 of the 40 files were incomplete, and 15 lacked contain purchase authorizations.
In Friday’s press release, Antonio said the report shows the city has “followed almost every policy. The areas they wanted us to address involved misfiled or misplaced documents. They recommended additional checks be added to ensure this does not recur. We agreed and have implemented changes.”
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Oakland Park Mayor Susanne Boisvenue, left and Broward Commissioner Ilene Lieberman
The Inspector General’s Office has been asked to investigate whether members of the county’s Resource Recovery Board have violated Broward’s tough new ethics code.
Oakland Park Mayor Suzanne Boisvenue, who quit the board in December, made the request late last month in an email obtained by Broward Bulldog.
Her concern: board members may be violating strict new rules that prohibit elected officials from interfering in how contractors are selected.
The board, known as the RRB, is the governing body of Broward’s Solid Waste Disposal District. Its members include nine elected commissioners and mayors from municipalities across the county, including Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman who serves as chair.
The possible interference involves who will get the billion-dollar job of disposing of much of Broward’s trash. The decision will affect how much homeowners and businesses pay for that service for years to come.
For the past three decades, trash giant Waste Management has had a lock on disposing of municipal trash that’s hauled to two Broward waste-to-energy incinerators. Both incinerators are owned and operated by Waste Management subsidiary, Wheelabrator Technologies.
But lately, an aggressive competitor whose public face is the politically influential west Broward landowner Ron Bergeron, threatens that monopoly.
Bergeron is pursing the contract in a partnership with Lantana-based Sun Recycling.
Boisvenue said she resigned from the RRB because of her concerns about the board’s repeated evaluations of various bid proposals, and plans to make a recommendation to the county commission. She believes the board, led by Lieberman, is trying to steer the contract to Waste Management.
“That’s exactly what I think,” the mayor said in an interview this week. “I think it crosses the line.”
Her email to Inspector General John Scott asks whether “the advisory RRB to the county should be involved in reviewing bids in any way.”
“I request that you investigate the matter,” she said.
Scott would not comment.
“We don’t confirm or deny whether we are investigating,” Scott said.
Broward’s ethics code says, “It shall be a conflict of interest for any elected official to serve as a voting member of a selection/evaluation committee in connection with any prospective procurement by the elected official’s governmental entity.”
Elected officials cannot serve on selection committees, nor can they “participate or interfere in any manner” at committee meetings. They can ask questions and express concerns only after the selection process is completed.
The new code took effect Jan. 2 for city officials. For county commissioners, it took effect when it was enacted in August.
While the RRB is not a selection committee, its voting members serve in a similar advisory capacity to the county commission. As elected officials in their own right, they would also be eligible to vote in their hometowns on any deal that might emerge through the RRB.
Since September, the RRB has discussed and rejected plans to issue its own request for proposals and advanced the idea of awarding a no-bid contract with Wheelabrator.
A DEAL IN THE WORKS
City managers from several RRB-member cities have been negotiating a deal directly with Wheelabrator, in meetings closed to both the public and disposal competitor Sun Bergeron.
The RRB heard an update on those negotiations Jan. 19 from Weston City Manager John Flint. He said cost has yet to be worked out, but the framework would be a five-year deal with options.
Broward Bulldog reported last week that after Flint appeared before the RRB, Broward Commissioner Lieberman said that she will shortly bring to the full county commission the concept of a new no-bid Wheelabrator deal, but no firm agreement.
On Monday, via email, Lieberman called Boisvenue’s assertion of contract-steering “preposterous.”
“No one…is trying to steer anything to Wheelabrator and the correct chronology of events and what ..the RRB (has) determined have been explained to Mayor Boisvenue many times. However, she seems incapable of understanding these important details,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman said, too, that Boisvenue was “misinterpreting the county’s ethics ordinance.” As proof, she cited a three-page legal opinion dated Feb. 6 by RRB lawyer Eugene Steinfeld. The opinion was written in response to a Jan. 25 inquiry from Oakland Park Assistant City Manager Horace McHugh.
Steinfeld acknowledged that the RRB “is expected to consider matters of vendor selection” and “may be considering the award of a contract.” Nevertheless, he wrote, “I believe this would not be in violation of the county’s new ethics code ordinance.”
The RRB’s current push for a no-bid contract resurrects a scenario that county commissioners rejected in December 2010 after cities objected that disposal rates the board had negotiated were too high. That proposal called for a 10-year, $1.5 billion no-bid deal with Wheelabrator.
Outrage about how the RRB pushed that deal led the Miramar City Commission to go out for bids on their own. The prices it received through competitive bidding were significantly less than those contained in the initial Wheelabrator proposal.
But Miramar has yet to actually award a contract that other cities might want to piggyback on, and no date has been set to do so. That that has created uncertainty that’s allowed renewed talk of a no-bid deal for Wheelabrator.
Reporter Buddy Nevins contributed to this report
By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
The mammoth international waste company fighting to retain its near-monopoly on Broward County’s trash disposal business is under investigation for cheating Palm Beach County out of more than $700,000.
Waste Management is accused of dumping garbage in Broward, which deprived Palm Beach of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.
A company official said the allegations involved a tiny fraction of the garbage that Waste Management handled and said it was the result of unintentional errors.
At the same time Waste Management’s hauling operation has been battling allegations of fraud in Palm Beach, it has been negotiating through its subsidiary Wheelabrator Technologies for a no-bid disposal deal in Broward.
The biggest portion of Waste Management’s business in Broward is garbage disposal for 26 of the county’s 31 municipalities.
Handling waste is divided into two separate jobs, both done by separate arms of Waste Management. There is hauling, or picking up garbage usually under a franchise agreement with a local government. And there is disposal, the site where garbage is taken by a hauler to burn or bury in a landfill. Hauling and disposal are generally added together and billed homes and businesses as one amount.
AN ENORMOUS DEAL
Broward’s long-term contract represents more than a $1 billion deal for Wheelabrator.
The company has had a lock on this waste disposal for more than 20 years and is seeking to use no-bid negotiations to extend it through at least the end of the decade. Other waste firms are lobbying Broward officials to allow bids for waste disposal, arguing that competition can bring lower prices for homes and businesses.
While the jockeying continued in Broward, Palm Beach Commissioners this week rejected a $719,000 settlement agreement with Waste Management. Palm Beach Commissioners instead ordered the violations investigated by the county’s inspector general. The inspector general is expected to determine if the problem is bigger than auditors uncovered.
Commissioner Burt Aaronson noted that an independent audit only covered the period from Oct. 1, 2008 to April 30, 2011. The same study found indications that waste from Southern Palm Beach and Boca Raton had been diverted as early as 2004.
“It may just be the tip of the iceberg,” Aaronson said.
Criminal fraud, which the inspector general could refer to law enforcement authorities, is not suspected, according to Charles Maccarrone, the chief financial officer for Palm Beach’s Solid Waste Authority.
Under its franchise agreement, Waste Management must haul “all” waste to a processing and disposal facility where the county can receive a $42-per-ton fee. When the waste is hauled by Waste Management to its Broward facilities in violation of the contract, Palm Beach received nothing and the company saves the $42-per-ton.
HOW THE FRAUD WAS FOUND
The fraud was discovered during a routine review by the Palm Beach waste authority’s staff of a Boca Raton commercial waste customer’s accounts. Trying to determine whether the customer could benefit from recycling, staffers “learned that their contract waste hauler, Waste Management, was diverting some of its (municipal solid waste) to facilities owned by (Waste Management) in Broward County,” according to an authority memo prepared last month.
The memo was made public at a waste authority meeting this week. At the meeting, Waste Management was excoriated by members of the public. Delray Beach resident Kenneth MacNamee charged that Waste Management had a “deliberate and concerted plan” to cheat the county government.
A Waste Management spokeswoman bristled.
“The allegations thrown out by a few members of the community were clearly baseless,” said Dawn McCormick of Waste Management.
An independent forensic auditor found that 8,440 tons of waste had been diverted to Waste Management’s Broward disposal sites during a 31-month period surveyed. “It was only .6 percent of the waste we handle. Therefore we correctly delivered 99.4 percent of material collected to SWA (Solid Waste Authority) facilities,” McCormick said.
McCormick said the “unintentional” errors mostly occurred on Sunday when the Palm Beach facilities were closed. Some Waste Management commercial customers, such as restaurants, demanded a pickup Sunday and there was no place but Broward to dispose of the garbage.
McCormick said Waste Management would work diligently with the inspector general to “put this matter behind us.”
BIG $ FOR YOUR GARBAGE
Designating where garbage is disposed, is a highly lucrative clause written into each city’s contract with waste haulers. By controlling where garbage is disposed, governments can tack a high fee to the disposal cost.
Courts have repeatedly upheld government’s authority over where garbage is disposed. Still, “we’ve had problems with enforcing it,” conceded Ron Greenstein, executive director of Broward’s Resource Recovery Board.
County inspectors frequently check disposal sites to insure they are not handling waste that is supposed to go to the county facilities operated by Wheelabrator.
Haulers who violate their franchise agreement over disposal locations either promise to stop, pay a fine or end up in court.
But in the case of Waste Management, the disposal issue hasn’t been an issue in Broward.
In Broward County, Waste Management’s subsidiary Wheelabrator owns the two biggest garbage disposal facilities. Through Broward’s Resource Recovery Board, the company has had a disposal contract with 26 of the county’s 31 cities since the late 1980s. It is currently negotiating behind closed doors to renew its current contract, which expires in the summer of 2013.
Waste Management owns the disposal sites, so there has never been a problem of the company shipping its trash to other facilities to avoid paying the county fees like it has with other firms, Greenstein said.
Because of those reasons, Greenstein believes that the allegations against Waste Management in Palm Beach should not affect the disposal negotiations in Broward.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper's newspaper column
A weekly newspaper in Hallandale Beach got a $50,000 city “loan” under terms so favorable that half of it – $25,000 – amounted to a taxpayer giveaway because the city did not require it to be repaid.
The for-profit South Florida Sun Times obtained the loan even though the paper’s two top executives reported incomes averaging more than $200,000 each for two years prior to receiving the city loan in 2009.
The Sun Times also benefited in recent years from an increase in city spending on advertising. The city’s no-bid ad purchases and loan averaged $65,000 annually during the past three years.
Throughout that time, and currently, the weekly Sun Times has featured Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper as a prominent columnist, with a link to her writings about city issues on the front page of the paper’s web site.
The newspaper, which often writes upbeat stories about advertisers, circulates in Dania Beach, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines south to North Miami and Surfside. Cooper, who is not paid, is the only elected official listed on the paper’s site as having a regular column.
The paper’s arrangement with Mayor Cooper is under fire.
“How can you be independent if you are dependent on the city?” said community activist Csaba Kulin. He criticized the Sun Times for neglecting to print comments from readers in response to stories.
“It’s propaganda for the mayor,” complained City Commissioner Keith London, a rival of the mayor who has sought unsuccessfully to halt city spending for ads in the Sun Times. “There’s no fact checking and no rebuttal; the city pays a lot of money for a bully pulpit for the mayor.”
Mayor Cooper said she was invited to write for the paper about five years ago. She sees “no conflict” in her writing a regular column and the city’s advertising and loan to the paper. She said she had nothing to do with those deals, adding that they were recommendations of former City Manager Mike Good.
Cooper said, too, that she has not used her column to gain any political advantage.
“I’ve written to inform residents what’s going on,” Cooper said. “I try to make it informative. It’s not always about city business. It’s also been about individuals, about the environment, about veterans. I’m like a reporter. I don’t get paid.”
Cooper also said her columns were not part of the city’s expenditures for advertisements in the newspaper.
The mayor generally writes about community activities, city government operations, and city commission actions from her perspective. There is no mention of oppositional or different viewpoints – if they exist.
In April 2009, the Sun Times became the first city business to receive a loan under a new program, funded through the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), to retain and to assist firms having financial difficulties. The CRA, a special taxing district that covers most of the city, is controlled by city commissioners and the mayor.
The city’s Business Retention and Expansion Program provided for 50% to 80% forgiveness on loans up to $50,000, with the balance to be repaid at two percent interest over 10 years.
The Sun Times received the maximum loan amount, $50,000, with half of that amount “forgiven” under the program in its loan agreement with the city.
Richard Cannone, who oversaw the CRA as the city’s director of development services, wrote a memo in December 2008 that then city manager Good had approved the $50,000 CRA loan to the Sun Times. In another memo, Cannone stated the funds were “loaned to rescue the newspaper from financial hardship that had befallen their company over the past few years.”
No other CRA loan program has the forgiveness percentage that the Sun Times received under the new program. CRA code compliance loans, allocating up to $100,000, and CRA Business Incentive and Enticement loans, allocating up to $200,000, provide for forgiveness of 15% of loans, with balances to be repaid at four percent interest over 10 years.
Craig Farquhar, president of the South Florida Digest, which publishes the Sun Times, declined to discuss the newspaper’s financial dealings with the city, its editorial policies, or its relationship with the mayor.
“This is old news,” he said. “I have nothing else to say.”
Hallandale Beach took other action beneficial to the Sun Times’ owner.
In 2010, according to CRA records, the city agreed to subordinate its position on the loan balance so the newspaper could refinance a mortgage loan. That meant the city gave up its claim as first in line for repayment in case of a default — putting taxpayer funds at increased risk.
BIG SALARIES AND CITY MONEY
City documents also show that before the loan “rescue the newspaper” was made, its two top executives drew six figure salaries.
Farquhar likewise declined to address the newspaper’s need for the city loan in view of the hefty incomes of he and South Florida Digest Vice President Cecile Hiles.
CRA files contain federal income tax returns showing that South Florida Digest paid salary and wages to Farquhar totaling $259,193 in 2007 and $239,054 in 2008, as well as an additional $41,239 in pension and annuity payouts. Hiles received $192,052 in 2007 and $229,010 in 2008.
Current CRA Director Alvin Jackson said the wages Farquhar and Hiles were paid would not have disqualified the Sun Times from receiving the $50,000 loan. The information about their incomes was required by the city to determine the newspaper’s ability to pay back the loan, he added.
Jackson said the paper asked for the loan to survive a downturn in the economy. The paper had lost advertising and had cut jobs and reduced benefits, he said.
Hallandale Beach has also come to the rescue of the Sun Times with increased advertising purchases made without competition.
City records show that for the five-year period between 2003 and 2008, the city paid the Sun Times about $32,000 for advertising.
Those numbers jumped the next year, when the city bought about $42,000 in advertising and issued the $50,000 loan . The city bought $52,000 in advertising in 2009-2010, and $53,000 in 2010-201. It has agreed to buy $50,000 in advertising this fiscal year.
The most recent advertising buy was included in the current budget approved by the city commission on Sept. 26, 2011 in a 4-1 vote. Cooper voted yes; London was the lone dissenter.
PURCHASES WITHOUT BIDS
The city advertised in the Sun Times without seeking bids. The mayor said that’s because it was the only local newspaper in the city. City code, she said, provides for giving preference to local businesses and those which are one of a kind. “There is no other provider,” Cooper added.
Because the Sun Times is not a newspaper of general circulation in the county, like the Sun-Sentinel or The Miami Herald, the city has to place its legal notices in other area newspapers.
Cooper has been a strong advocate in the community for the Sun Times. She urged local businesses to advertise in the newspaper in a 2008 letter on city stationery, co-signed by then city manager Good. Today, she says she favors future city support for the only city-based newspaper.
“To the naysayers, it’s not about” the column being used as a political platform, said Cooper. “It’s a service to the community to inform.”
Not everyone sees Cooper’s writing as useful.
“The mayor’s column: I used to read it,” Kulin said. “But it’s one-sided. It’s feel good stories about herself and the city.”
William Gjebre can be reached at email@example.com
By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
Wheelabrator North plant in Pompano Beach
The bruising battle over which firm can tap into Broward County’s multi-million dollar waste stream is back to where it started: With a no bid deal.
“This is another debacle. In my opinion, such non-competitive arrangements are bad governmental practice,” said Phil Medico, a lawyer with upstart Sun Bergeron, which is seeking to bid competitively for Broward’s waste disposal business.
At stake are the costs of garbage disposal for residents and businesses for years into the future. Also at stake are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of earnings for companies seeking to dispose of Broward’s trash.
The fight for the lucrative deal has pitted two powerful corporate players – Wheelabrator Technologies, a subsidiary of the sprawling multinational Waste Management disposal titan, and Sun Bergeron, a new creation of the real estate/development/rock pit mogul Ron Bergeron. Both are fielding teams of lobbyists and attorneys.
Wheelabrator has held the current contract for decades.
Homeowners and businesses pay a single fee for two separate parts of garbage removal. A hauler picks up and delivers trash to a disposal site. A disposal firm sorts the waste for recyclable material and then buries or burns the remainder.
The current struggle is over the second part of the process – disposal.
A NEW DEAL EMERGES
Wheelabrator doesn’t want to lose its exclusive government contract, or share it. With its contract expiring next year, the firm fashioned a no-bid deal with County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman and the county’s Resource Recovery Board.
But some cities balked. An after ferocious lobbying by Sun Bergeron, Wheelabrator’s $1.5 billion, no-bid contract was rejected by the county commission a year ago with critics calling the extension a bad deal.
A new version of the no-bid Wheelabrator deal surfaced last month at the Resource Recovery Board. Called the RRB in the industry, the board is a group of city and county officials whose job is to find a regional solution for waste disposal. The idea: to develop an alternative in case a plan by Miramar to put a bid out for disposal services – a bid other cities could use – faltered.
The new deal discussed at the RRB is being negotiated between Wheelabrator and a handful of city managers led by Weston’s John Flint. The talks between Wheelabrator and the managers have been going on quietly for a year.
Those meetings are closed to the public, and to Sun Bergeron. A Sun Bergeron representative who tried to attend was turned away. Although the talks are being held in private, any agreement will have to be ratified by commissioners of various cities at public meetings, said Flint.
Flint told the RRB that the city managers are discussing a five-year deal starting next year with options beyond that date. He conceded the group still has to work out the cost.
Whatever the eventual agreement on price, Sun Bergeron says lower prices can always be obtained through a competitive process.
For proof, Sun Bergeron points to Miramar. Miramar City Commissioners were so upset with the no-bid deal that the county was pushing last year that officials went out to bid on their own. The prices it received through competitive bidding were roughly half those contained in the initial Wheelabrator proposal.
Medico, which won the bidding, said Miramar’s experience proved what should be done for the entire county – competitive bidding for disposal.
“The beneficiaries are the residents,” he said.
Still, Miramar has yet to actually award a contract that other cities might want to piggyback on. And that has created uncertainty that’s offering new hope for a deal to Wheelabrator.
“The question is what’s Miramar going to do, and when are they going to do it?” said an official at another city.
LEAVING WELL ENOUGH ALONE
Wheelabrator’s supporters say the firm has done a superb job since the 1980s disposing of millions of tons of garbage from 26 of the county’s 31 cities.
“If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” said Beam Furr, a Hollywood city commissioner and member of the Resource Recovery Board.
Other officials say that Sun Bergeron is untested and they doubt it can deliver cheaper rates, despite winning the Miramar bidding that featured rates at $9.25-per-ton less than Wheelabrator. They point out that Sun Bergeron owns no landfills or waste-to-energy plants in Broward and will have to ship garbage a longer distance. Wheelabrator owns two local processing facilities– one along Florida’s Turnpike in North Broward and the other just south of Interstate 595 on U. S. 441.
Flint said the safety of signing with Wheelabrator is one reason he is negotiating an agreement with just that firm.
“The agreement eliminates risk” by tightening the agreement to protect the cities, Flint said.
Backers of Wheelabrator said they preferred a firm with a proven track record instead of a newcomer like Sun Bergeron.
Medico bristled when asked about accusations that Sun Bergeron’s competency was being questioned.
Southern Waste Systems, Bergeron’s partner in Broward disposal, has dozens of municipal and industrial clients including Fisher Island in Miami-Dade County, where the waste must be barged to the Port of Miami, shipped to Broward for recycling and what’s left sent to a landfill in another part of the state. “This is a walk in the park compared to that,” he said.
Bergeron picks up hurricane debris in dozens of cities and counties, plus is rebuilding Interstate 595. “Do you really think that the guy who coordinates hundreds of different tasks to build 595 can’t dispose of waste? Ridiculous,” said Aleida “Ali” Waldman, Bergeron’s general counsel.
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick towards the end of Wheelabrator’s current 20-year contract, which expires in the summer of 2013. The company is pushing hard for the no-bid renewal.
“Due to our experience, expertise, and 20-year record of success, we believe Wheelabrator can provide the cities the most economical and environmentally sound waste disposal agreement,” William Roberts, Wheelabrator’s vice president of operations wrote in a letter distributed at the RRB.
But when questioned at the meeting by Lieberman to discuss just how economical Wheelabrator was willing to be, Roberts said he wasn’t authorized to publicly talk about prices.
Lieberman isn’t waiting. She will shortly bring to the county commission the general concept of a new no-bid Wheelabrator deal, but no firm agreement.
The outline of Flint and the city manager’s no-bid agreement with Wheelabrator will be made public in February or March.
And Sun Bergeron will continue to push for competitive bidding everywhere.
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
During the first week of January 2011, Russell Walker answered his front door and was shot nine times, his body left lying face down in a pool of blood on the floor of his Pompano Beach home.
The killer got a long head start on a getaway. A week would pass before anyone even knew Walker was dead.
The execution-style slaying was cold. One year later, it appears, so is the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s hunt for the killer.
Walker’s family says they have few answers from police about what happened. They learned how he died when the slaying was aired on a local TV news report.
“My sister, brother-in-law and two nieces were in a hotel room, horrified by the report,” said brother John Genzale. “That was no way for a family to learn the details.”
Walker’s body was discovered inside by the front door by sheriff’s Detective Tim Duggan on the night of Jan. 14, 2011, after a family friend went to check on Walker and detected a foul odor. The single-family home is on a canal in the 700 block of Southeast Seventh Avenue.
Genzale and sister Diane Scott believe Walker died on Jan. 5, as neither they nor his girlfriend heard from him by phone, text or email after Jan. 5. Duggan believes Walker died on Jan. 7, which is when a neighbor thought he heard a bang, according to Genzale.
BSO IS MUM
Duggan declined to comment when reached on his cell phone, and sheriff’s office spokesperson Dani Moschella did not respond to subsequent requests for an interview with Duggan.
Robbery does not appear to have been the motive, and the family remains mystified by what happened, Genzale said.
Walker’s girlfriend, Tricia Meza, also knows of nothing in the 50-year-old American Airlines pilot’s background that could explain his murder.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” said Meza, a San Diego resident who had been dating Walker long-distance for about a year at the time of his death. “There’s just nothing about him that would trigger me to think that somebody would want to do this to him.”
Longtime friend and fellow American Airlines pilot Jay Weitzel has no explanation either. “No one knows anything,” the Plantation resident said. “It’s very disheartening.”
Walker’s ex-wife, Nancy Hill Walker, also knows of no one who would have had motive to murder Walker.
“I’ve not a clue,” said the American Airlines flight attendant. “It’s just a mystery.” The two divorced in 2008 after 10 years of marriage and 14 years together.
Police appear equally clueless. According to Genzale, Duggan assumed that the grizzly nature of his murder likely meant that Walker was secretly involved with nefarious activities, such as gambling.
Russell Walker, right, with brother John Genzale and sister Diane Scott
“The immediate reaction from the cops was rather offensive,” Genzale said. “And you know, we’ve never discovered anything.”
Genzale, a former newspaper editor in Miami, added that detectives later told him their investigation turned up nothing about his brother’s past to suggest why he was killed. Mistaken identity has not been ruled out.
Police have been tight-lipped about the case. Last year’s newspaper stories don’t even report that Walker was shot.
Fellow pilots held a service for Walker in South Florida before the funeral arranged by his family in San Diego. About 200 people attended the first service and at least 150 attended the second, according to Genzale, who traveled from his home in Como, Italy.
Walker, whose loved ones and friends called him Russ, is survived by his mother, brother and sister.
A “TOP GUN” NAVY PILOT
He grew up in San Diego and earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from San Diego State University. After college, Walker served in the Navy. “He was the real ‘Top Gun’ and flew the F-14 Tomcat,” said Scott, who lives in San Diego. As of the time of his death, Walker had worked for American Airlines for 19 years, flying out of Miami International Airport.
Family and friends describe Walker as an active, outgoing person who enjoyed traveling in his free time. He owned a boat and a Harley Davidson motorcycle and was an active member of the American Airlines Ski & Snowboard Club, a recreational team open to the airline’s employees.
Shortly before his death, Walker was preparing to compete with the ski team in Colorado. Some of his family and friends thought he was in Colorado when they didn’t hear from him after Jan. 5, but Walker had cancelled the trip because of a cold.
One year later, Genzale worries that solving his brother’s murder is no longer a priority for the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve kind of lost faith,” Genzale said. “We can’t live with the fact that we’re here a year down the road and we’re no closer to finding my brother’s killer.”
Karla Bowsher can be reached at KBowsher@BrowardBulldog.org.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward County Courthouse Photo by Georgia Guercio
An investigation involving a Broward Sheriff’s Office reality TV show has led to the release of a state attorney’s list of 137 current and former police officers and deputies whose testimony may be suspect because of their troubles with the law.
The list includes officers who have been arrested or convicted of crimes like sexual battery, attempted murder, fraud, drug trafficking and official misconduct. Others are on the list because they are under investigation regarding fatal shootings, the falsification of records, perjury, traffic fatalities, theft and other crimes.
Every police agency in the county, except for the three smallest departments, has at least one officer on the list. The county’s largest police agency, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, has the most with 57 deputies, followed by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department with 19 officers. Hollywood and Lauderhill each have eight officers on the list. Five men and women on the list could not be identified by department.
Since Oct. 1, prosecutors have added 23 officers and deputies to the list – a rate of nearly two names a week. The list, which you can see here, is through Dec. 22.
The so-called “Brady List” includes the names of all officers listed as “active” in the state’s computerized attorney notification system, whether their cases are “pending, open, closed, convicted or not,” said Broward State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ron Ishoy.
The list is named for a U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, which established a legal doctrine requiring prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence in the state’s possession to defendants and their lawyers. The officers on the list are those about whom the state has information that may be favorable to the defense.
“They remain on the list because they could be subject to impeachment as potential witnesses in other cases,” Ishoy said. “The list is complete as of the day you received it as far as we know.”
In addition to the names of the officers, the list includes brief comments indicating why they are on it and the name of the prosecutor who put them there. Prosecutors make those calls “on a case by case basis as to whether the evidence is relevant under discovery rules detailed in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure,” Ishoy said. Prosecutors won’t comment on the open cases.
Most of the officers on the list are there for matters since the beginning of 2009, but some date to 2004. The list is dynamic, with names added and removed as prosecutors believe is warranted.
THE LIST BECOMES KNOWN
The existence of the list became known recently when it was mentioned in an August letter from prosecutors to Gerald Wengert, a Broward Sheriff’s deputy and star of the reality television show “Unleashed: K-9 Broward County, informing him that he is under investigation for falsifying records.
Broward Bulldog obtained the list using Florida’s public records law.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said he was unaware such a list existed. After being told how many officers and deputies were on the list, he said he believes the state has undercounted.
“My office has a list that’s larger than that using our own information. The State Attorney’s Office always takes a restrictive rather than an expansive view of what constitutes Brady material. If they say it’s about 130 it’s my guess it’s probably more like 450,” Finkelstein said.
Ishoy said the Brady List is a printout of the latest data that his office has collected and made available to defense lawyers for several years. He said the state’s release of information goes “far beyond” what the law requires.
“It has evolved as our computer system has evolved,” he said. “We did it to enhance efficiency and consistency in disclosing this information.”
Still, the Brady List assembles in one place the names of problematic officers, including officers under investigation in police shootings and other matters that have not previously been made available to the public at large.
The list shows that prosecutor-led grand jury investigations of fatal police shootings often take years before they are concluded.
As of Dec. 22, 30 officers from around the county were under scrutiny by the grand jury in cases in which a person died as a result of police action. Eleven of those officers have been under investigation since 2009. One officer, Pembroke Pines Sgt. James Helms, is under scrutiny in two death cases opened in 2009 and 2011.
“NO PRIORTY” FOR POLICE SHOOTING PROBES
Veteran Fort Lauderdale civil rights attorney Barbara Heyer said that such delays are unfair and intolerable for cases that should be among the State Attorney’s top priorities.
“These police shooting cases are just tagging along, there is no priority” she said. “The families of these victims, and they are victims, have to have some type of closure. To constantly hear prosecutors say this is ‘under investigation’ provides no one with anything.”
In June, Public Defender Finkelstein sent a letter to the Justice Department complaining that Broward State Attorney Michael Satz had failed to adequately investigate and prosecute criminal conduct by police. He alleged that was, in part, a “misguided” attempt to “insulate the state from its obligations under Brady.”
Finkelstein said his office reviewed dozens of prosecutors’ memos closing out investigations of officers without the filing of charges, and asserted that a there is a “double standard of justice in Broward County – one for law enforcement and the connected, and one for everyone else.”
“The state declines any prosecution against law enforcement unless there is a ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction.’ For my clients and other citizens, corroboration is not necessary to file charges and a ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction’” is measured to a lower standard, Finkelstein said.
Satz has called Finkelstein’s assertions “false and irresponsible.”
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley
Waste Management’s three-decade virtual monopoly on trash disposal in Broward appears to be nearing an end after a competing syndicate’s “best and final offer” for the job was ranked higher by a Miramar bid committee.
The Miramar bid is expected to be used by other Broward cities to drive down the cost of trash disposal for residents and customers throughout the county.
The proposal by the group whose public face is the politically influential Davie land baron Ron Bergeron offers substantial price savings over Waste Management’s bid. Other cash-strapped municipalities, including four with representatives on the committee that ranked the bids last week, are watching the process closely.
The deal will be presented to the Miramar commission for contract approval, probably in early February. From there, other cities and even the county could piggyback on the pact.
“I have no preference as to who gets the contract, but who gets the contract should be best for the residents of Miramar and our community,” said Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley.
CONTROLLING TRASH BILLS
Miramar has led the push for a new trash disposal deal since a year ago when the county’s embattled Resource Recovery Board failed to win approval for a new long-term deal with Waste Management without seeking competitive bids. Miramar customers alone pay to dispose of 70,000 tons of garbage a year.
The Resource Recovery Board, created in the late 1980s, has historically been the negotiating arm for the cities and county.
A home or business owner pays a single fee for two separate parts of garbage removal. Residents pay a trash hauler to pick up garbage curbside and then they also pay money – commonly called a “tipping fee” – to bury or burn the trash at a landfill or incinerator.
The deal being negotiated by Miramar is for the tipping fee portion of a typical garbage bill. The separate rate charged by a trash hauler to pick up garbage is set through agreements negotiated between a hauler and individual local governments.
The new reduced tipping fee would save Miramar and its residents more than $500,000 a year compared to Waste Management’s offer. That does not include an additional $2 a ton returned to the city as part of revenue sharing generated by the sale of recycled materials.
Waste Management’s subsidiary Wheelabrator Technologies owns and operates two local waste-to-energy plants where 26 cities and the county now haul their solid waste to be incinerated. The current base tipping fee under Wheelabrator is $72.57 a ton; Wheelabrator has proposed chopping that to $52.50 a ton. Bergeron’s group has offered a tipping fee of $45.25 a ton.
Broward commissioners in June approved a two-year, $107.3 million interim disposal agreement with Wheelabrator at about $57 a ton to last until July 2013. That’s when the existing inter-local agreement among the county and the 26 cities that make up Broward’s Solid Waste District expires.
While the Resource Recovery Board’s plan included significant cuts in the tipping fee, it was blasted by various city officials who said it didn’t go far enough and amounted to a huge giveaway to a multi-billion dollar corporation flush with years of excessive profits made at the expense of Broward customers.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Wheelabrator has signaled to Miramar that it won’t go down without a fight. On Nov. 21, company Vice President William B. Roberts fired off a protest letter to the city’s procurement director objecting to the way the bidding was handled and claiming it favored Bergeron’s group.
“The process has been less than transparent or in compliance with Florida law,” Roberts wrote.
The low bid garnered by Miramar comes from a venture that teams Lantana-based Sun Recycling with Bergeron Environmental and Recycling. Bergeron’s partner in the Miramar bid is his longtime friend Anthony Lomangino. Lomangino is chairman of Sun’s parent, Southern Waste Systems. Bergeron already has a contract with the county to dispose of hurricane debris.
Both Wheelabrator and the Bergeron group have hired teams of lobbyists. Bergeron and Southern Waste Systems are represented by longtime Bergeron General Counsel Aleida “Ali” Waldman, former county commissioner George Platt and Democratic insider and attorney Bernie Friedman. Wheelabrator is represented by veteran local lobbyists Bill Laystrom and Dennis Mele, among others. Both sides include frequent contributors to local and regional political candidates.
BIG MONEY AT STAKE
The members of Broward’s Solid Waste District generated more than 11 million tons of garbage in 2008 – the latest year for which those totals are available. Savings for cities – and their residents and businesses – will vary depending on how much trash they produce.
For example, Fort Lauderdale produced more than 190,000 tons of trash in 2008. Its annual disposal savings under the Sun/Bergeron proposal would be as much as $1.8 million. Hollywood, which generated 116,000 tons, would save nearly $1.1 million a year. Coral Springs’ savings would be nearly $900,000 a year on 96,000 tons.
Officials in Oakland Park, where city leaders helped drive the push for competitive bidding, said this week that the Sun/Bergeron proposal would save the city $365,000 annually –or $1.8 million over five years. Over the summer, that city’s commissioners became the first to lower residential service rates – by 15 percent or $3.75 a month – based on the county’s interim deal.
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