Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Thursday’s City Council Trail Ridge Hearing

I’ll be at Thursday’s City Council meeting, which is the second Committee Of The Whole meeting being held in regards to the Trail Ridge Landfill debate.  I’ll be following Tia Mitchell’s live blogging of the hearings, which can be found here.  In addition, I will most likely be chiming in here from time to time.  Stay tuned…

First suggestion…it’s okay to crank down the A/C.  It’s nearly 90 degrees outside.

It does look like Waste Management gave their employees the afternoon off.  They are here en masse.  Rows of green shirts.

We are underway.  All Council members are here with the exception of CW Lee.  I understand she will be here shortly.

President Fussell is explaining the rules of the Committee.  He is explaining that they are not here to take a final action, they are simply here to try to get to the truth.  He is requesting that everyone in the audience take an oath.  CM Joost is making a point of order.  We are now all sworn in, even the bloggers and reporters.  

President Fussell is acknowledging the obvious—we are likely to be in litigation with someone once the City makes it decision.  He is specifying that the testimony is not designed to uncover legal strategy, but only to get to the truth.

CM Joost is trying his point of order again.  He says he has amendments to introduce and wants to know when he can do that.  (He has been a consistent supporter of the Mayor’s strategy.)

CM Crescimbeni is requesting that each person who approaches the podium being asked whether or not they answered in the affirmative when the oath was administered.  He is also verifying that the recording devices are working properly to ensure all testimony is preserved for posterity.

CM Yarborough is confirming that he can question anyone he sees in the audience.  He can.

CM Graham moved to discharge the bill from the three committees, so that it can now be brought before the Committee As A Whole.

Alan Mosely is approaching the podium.  (You may remember that there was controversy over his apparent coordination with Paul Harden, the Waste Management lobbyist.)  Mosely confirms that he has felt, since the beginning, that the best option for the City was to reach an agreement with Waste Management.  This would seem to indicate that the City made no preliminary moves to determine whether or not Waste Management’s legal arguments were valid or not—they just automatically moved to deal.  Alan Mosely now acknowledges that the City’s General Counsel was never involved in the negotiations that he had with Waste Management and states that “if he had it to do over again, [he] would have called the General Counsel.”  Mosely is mentioning Paul Harden frequently.  It appears that he dealt with Harden frequently.  He states that he never intended to undermine the City’s legal position.  Mosely says that he did not intend to mislead Mr. Williams, and admits that he did share details of his discussion with Paul Harden.  Only after doing that, only then did he reach out to the General Counsel’s Office.  He admits that his “conduct was inappropriate.”  Interesting point…he says that Paul Harden was “a party” to his discussions with the two former City employees he reached out to, raising the question that Paul Harden could possibly be listening in on the calls.  At this point, I’m expecting Cher to pop out and launch into “If I Could Turn Back Time.”  

CM Crescimbeni is now questioning Mr. Mosely.  Crescimbeni is asking whether or not Mr. Mosely kept any notes from his discussions.  Surprisingly enough, Mr. Mosely says he can’t remember and will “have to check.”  No further Council Members ask to question Mr. Mosely and he’s off the hook (for now).

Rick Mullaney, the City’s General Counsel, is now called before the Committee.  However, CM Joost has once again raised a point of order.  Not quite sure what his strategy is today at this point.  (You will recall that he has been a consistent supporter of the Mayor on this issue.)  He is wanting to know if we bid out this contract, exactly what are we bidding out.  Mullaney states that “Honor the Contract” and “Bid the Contract” are too simplistic.  He states that first of all, we need to identify what we are bidding.  Mullaney says that bidding a separate facility is most prudent legal strategy, but it does not resolve “life of site” question.  Mullaney states that there are legal and design issues that need to be weighed when expanding the current facility.  Mullaney states that Ebenezer G. is best equipped to answer operational and financial questions about expanding the current facility.  He believes that once the closure is complete, the City is on sound legal ground.  Mullaney states that a vertical expansion begun prior to the close of the current facility will most likely lead to a lawsuit.

CM Webb states that he takes a simplistic approach.  He says the law points to competitive bidding.  Mulaney states again that the City will be in a legal battle with one of the two companies—Waste Management or Republic Services.  Webb says that he understands that the contract does not preclude the City from moving forward with the permitting process, even if they do not extend the contract with Waste Management.  Mullaney states that he believes that the City would prevail in pursuing a ruling on the legal questions in the current contract.  Mulaney is warning the Council not to vote based on intimidation or fear of litigation risk, at the same time, he says the Council should not ignore the risks.

CM Webb motions to withdraw the bill.  Council members are now speaking to the motion to withdraw.  CM Holt says it is premature.  CW Lee is now questioning Rick Mulaney.  She states that her questions are not “meant to offend.”  She asks Mulaney if he is still under the impression that the City will lose a lawsuit.  (I don’t recall Mulaney ever stating this publicly.)  Lee now asks if Mulaney feels that the City will prevail in a lawsuit.  Mulaney points her back to his original letter.  She continues questioning Mulaney—CM Fussell reminds her that they are debating the motion to withdraw.  That does not seem slow her down.  Mulaney states that Mr. Williams affidavit does not change the legal opinion of the General Counsel’s Office.  He states that he believes that affidavit reflects the legal position of WM’s lawyer, not Mr. Williams.  

CW Johnson is speaking.  She is asking why the original contract was not clearly drafted to be in the best interest of the City?  Mulaney states that there has been a dispute over the original contract for quite some time.  The issue has never been resolved.  Mulaney says that WM and Republic’s legal opinions are, of course, designed to benefit their sides.  He says that his is simply designed to represent the City of Jacksonville.

CM Davis states that if the motion to withdraw were made at 6:00pm, he would be inclined to support it.  However, he would still like to question Republic Services under oath.  Motion to withdraw has been tabled.  CM Bishop asks at what point is it appropriate to hold a private meeting with the General Counsel to address the legal issues.  Mulaney says that he has met with everyone, except CW Johnson who has been out on sick leave.  (She is now back.)  Mulaney says he is willing to meet whenever the Council needs him.  

CM Holt asks why the Council would want to withdraw the bill when they still wanted to meet privately with the General Counsel to have questions answered.  President Fussell states that he has used the last 6 months to do just that.  Mulaney says that the City’s strongest legal position is post-closure.  If the City sought to expand the current facility prior to the closure of that facility, he anticipates that there would be legal action.  He states that is not saying the City would prevail, just acknowledging that there would likely be litigation.

CM Richard Clark is now speaking.  He is asking why the General Counsel has never addressed the disputed contract issue over the past 20 years that they knew there was an issue.  Mulaney states that the City has attempted repeatedly.  He says the City’s legal position has never changed.  He states that there was always the risk that if the City didn’t prevail, they would be stuck with the original contract.  President Fussell is now stating he believes the City needs to obtain a declaratory judgement.

CM Richard Corrigan asks whether or not Waste Management could also ask for a declaratory judgement.  Mulaney says he would prefer to discuss that privately.

CM Hyde, one of the two attorneys on the Council, is now speaking.  Hyde says he feels that the Council has gone as far as they can go today.

CM Lee is back up.  “With some hesitancy,” she says that she is not clear whether or not she is allowed to meet with Mulaney privately.  Mulaney assures her that she is not obligated to share her legal discussions with members of the media.  Denise Lee is now asking Mulaney what he could possibly share with her in private that he cannot state in public.  Lee is asking him if he would like to change any of the things he already stated in his original letter.  Lee is repeatedly asking him why the other Council members can’t ask him their questions now.  Mulaney is stating that there are specific items in the contract that he believes support the City’s case, but he will not discuss them in public.  Lee asks him if he has shared them privately with Council members.  Mulaney says that he has with some, but not with all.  He is at their mercy in regards to what they want to know.  Lee once again states that she thought Mulaney’s letter was completely clear and doesn’t understand how there can be more questions.

CM Crescimbeni is asking Mulaney if further interviewing people under oath would be detrimental to the City’s case.  CW Lee has the mic again.  She asks why they would ask people to appear if their appearance could potentially harm the City’s case.  President Fussell is reminding her that he has asked anyone to testify, as long as they are not City employees whose testimony might undercut the City’s legal strategy.

CM Davis is now speaking.  He says that no one doubts the Mayor negotiated a good deal, but he wants to know if he can negotiate an even better deal.  President Fussell points out that the bill before them is in regards to the existing contract and he does not feel other companies testimony is relevant to the bill that is before them today.  

CM Warren Jones is now speaking.  Jones asks if they have the power to choose the one of the three options which has previously been discussed.  Mulaney says that litigation is likely, but it would be different depending on which route the City decides to go.

CM Joost is speaking again in regards to vertical expansion rights.  He wants to know if the City can move forward with permitting before the current cell is close without breaching any contract.  Mullaney states that he does believe we can move forward with permitting without breaching the contract.  (Joost keeps stating that he doesn’t feel that he can answer all the question he has, but one wonders why he hasn’t met privately with the General Counsel to do just that prior to the meeting.)

CM Webb’s motion to withdraw the bill is now back.  The Council is hearing discussion on that matter.  CM Crescimbeni has now moved to deny the bill, not merely withdraw it.  CM Holt says that the Council is trying to cop out by moving to deny this early.  President Fussell says he has been working on this for 6 months—he doesn’t feel that denying it now would be a cop out.

CM Davis is stating that he is not in favor of denying the bill.  He would; however, be in favor of withdrawing it.  CM Webb asks that they deny the motion to deny and move on the motion to withdraw.  CM Jones says that he still has private questions and is opposed to either measure.

Motion to deny the bill fails.  Council is back to debating the motion to withdraw.  CM Hyde points out that they can still question witnesses if they wish in the future, even if the bill is withdrawn.  CW Lee points out that this vote tonight would simply be a recommendation.  If the Council votes tonight to withdraw the bill, the still must vote as the full Council to withdraw the legislation.  Tonight’s decision would not be a final decision.  CW Lee says “Daniel Davis keeps looking at her.”  CW Lee has made a “friendly motion” that this report could not take final action until April 30.  Lee withdraws her amendment.

CM Crescimbeni asks that if the bill is withdrawn, will the meeting then be over.  In other words, they cannot question witnesses who made the trip down for this meeting.

CM Joost is stating that he wants to hear CW Lee’s private questions and states his opposition to the withdrawal.  (That durn Sunshine Law.)

President Fussell states that if they vote to withdraw, he would like the Council to do it with some direction as to what avenue they intend to pursue.  President Fussell asks that the General Counsel pursue legal options to get a decision on the existing contract as part of the motion to withdraw.  

The bill has now been recommended to be withdrawn.  CM Crescimbeni now moves that the meeting be adjourned.


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