Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Bad Economy Could be Good for Trail Ridge Landfill

One good thing for the Trail Ridge Landfill has come out of the bad economy: less trash is being disposed of at the landfill. (See the latest Council Auditor’s quarterly summary report – click on Report #661 on the Council Auditor’s web page).   As it turns out, the bad economy could bring about another good result. 

While Mayor Peyton thinks he has the best deal he can get to expand and run Trail Ridge landfill, the bad economy could turn out to be good for the Trail Ridge contract as well – if City Council puts it out to bid.   Sarasota County just found that out for themselves with their proposed landfill expansion. (The Sarasota County landfill is projected to run out of space in the next year to year-and-a half.) 

“Not only are the bids coming in at lower amounts, but we are getting more bids,” says Commissioner Jon Thaxton.  Original estimates put the cost at more than $24 million, but because of the decline in the economy those prices have dropped [to $18.5 million].  The county was unable to find any local suitors to do the work.  The job will go to a North Carolina company.  Only a small portion will go to local workers.  “While we do want to emphasize the need for local contractors, we are not going to pay excessive money to get there.  That would be counterproductive and not good stewards of the tax payers money.”

Btw, Sarasota County was able to extend the life of their landfill by three years with an aggressive recycling program.

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City Bid Process Challenged for Cecil Field

I guess bidding out the Trail Ridge Landfill contract may not be such a great idea if the City’s Professional Services Evaluation Committee handles that bid process the way they did this one (at least according to the bid challenger anyway).

From the Jacksonville Business Journal:

A Fort Lauderdale firm looking to be the master developer of Cecil Commerce Center is protesting the score it received in the bidding from the city’s evaluation committee.

The protest filed by MBA Development Partners LLC will be heard by the city’s Professional Services Evaluation Committee April 30. Dallas-based Hillwood Development was scored highest by the committee, but its vote was stalled after MBA filed a protest.

“It is very uncommon for the fourth-ranked bidder to protest,” said Michael Clapsaddle, the city’s chief of procurement.

The firm protests receiving a 15 out of 40 in the financial responsibility category, which is one of 10 criteria. He said even if MBA were to receive a perfect score in the category, they would still place last.

MBA’s attorney, Matthew Jackson, also questioned how the city could have scored Hillwood the highest in the financial responsibility category since it had to give up its stake in a large mixed-use development in Dallas after not being able to bring anticipated returns to investors.

“An initial review of the scoring indicates that the decision was at best, ambiguous and arbitrary,” he wrote. “Worse, the integrity and the transparency of the process by which the master developer is chosen is highly suspect.”

MBA also protested the score it received in the “volume of current and prior work for using agencies” category. It turned out that they scored a perfect score, but a faxed copy from the committee appeared to give them a negative score.

“You can have the greatest response in the world but if your written response doesn’t address all issues of the [request for proposal] you’ll get a lower score,” Clapsaddle said.

Hillwood, which leased 602,000 square feet of space at West Point Trade Center in Jacksonville to Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. last year, beat out San Diego-based The Allen Group, Malvern, Penn.-based Liberty Property Trust, and Jacksonville’s Steinemann & Co.

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Trail Ridge Memories

Monday’s Florida Times-Union featured an article discussing the conflicting memories of three of the participants who had first-hand knowledge of the original Waste Management negotiations with the City of Jacksonville in regards to the Trail Ridge Landfill.  Two of the participants—Douglas Wood, the City’s former Deputy Director of Public Utilities, and James O’Conner, Waste Management’s former President of Southeast Operations—contend that the City only intended for the original contract to cover the current 150-acre landfill.  (Of course, it should be mentioned that O’Conner is now the CEO of Republic Services, Waste Management’s chief rival throughout the United States.)  The City’s former Director of Public Utilities, Allan Williams, has taken the opposite point of view, stating that he believes the original contract was for the entire 977-acre site.

What is particularly odd about one of the things shared in the Times-Union’s article is the impression that is created that the City appears to have been working in conjunction with Waste Management to bolster Waste Management’s claim that the original contract was for the entire 977-acre site, despite the Mayor’s Office and the Office of General Counsel public statements [in regards to the original contract] to the contrary.  This theory is in line with an original assertion made by one of my fellow bloggers on JaxPoliticsOnline.com that the Mayor’s Office has been coordinating efforts with Waste Management.  Douglas Wood’s story would seem to lend credence to that:

He said Alan Mosley, the city’s chief administrative officer, contacted him a couple of months ago to ask what he recalled about the intent of the original contract. Soon after, Wood said, he received a letter from Waste Management lobbyist Paul Harden that also included an affidavit drafted on Wood’s behalf.

Harden’s draft asserted that Wood supported Waste Management’s side.

“I hope you are in a position to sign the affidavit and return it to me,” Harden wrote. “It would be of great assistance to Mayor Peyton.”

Wood said he didn’t sign it because he didn’t agree with it. Instead, he drafted his own affidavit that took the opposite position and sent it to the General Counsel’s Office.

“The intent of the [request for proposals] was to provide landfill capacity for a 20-year period,” Wood wrote. “The City of Jacksonville selected a qualified bidder and entered into a contract for the 20-year period.”

Another interesting viewpoint to consider would be the views of Dan Richardson.  Mr. Richardson was the General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville during the original Trail Ridge negotiations and would have been familiar with the terms of the contract.  Because of his involvement with the original contract, Mr. Richardson was forced to obtain a waiver from the City of Jacksonville to work on behalf of Republic Services.  The City granted that waiver.  Days after receiving that waiver, however, Mr. Richardson was quoted in Folio Weekly sharing his recollection of the original contract negotiations—and sharing that he had been under the impression that the contract was limited to the 150-acre landfill.  According to the Times-Union, Chief Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara moved to quickly rescind Mr. Richardson’s waiver, a move viewed by many as punishment to Mr. Richardson for complicating the City’s attempt to make its case to the public.  

Only a few months after Mr. Richardson’s waiver was rescinded, the City began seeking affidavits that would bolster Waste Management’s case. At that same time, the Mayor stepped in to personally ask several of Republic Services lobbyists, including his former Spokesperson Susie Wiles, to drop their efforts to oppose his initiative.  They did.

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The First Trail Ridge Hearing

There was a lot of information to digest in yesterday’s City Council Committee of the Whole Hearing in regards to the proposed Waste Management contract to run the Trail Ridge Landfill.  In the end, however, it does not appear as if any minds on the City Council were swayed.  

The debate was dominated by coordinated efforts on both sides, leaving scant time at the end for “regular people” to voice their thoughts on the matter.  By the time “regular people” approached the podium, many of the Council members had already left.  There were fresh charges of contract violations, SEC violations and lack of transparency in City Hall decisions.  There were fireworks, most notably when Councilman Daniel Davis suggested swearing in Republic Services’ lawyer on the spot and asking them to bid for the contract during the meeting, something [the swearing in] that was not requested of the Mayor’s staff.  Councilwoman Denise Lee seized on that suggestion and others to turn it in to a rather lively meeting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Survey Says: Bid Trail Ridge Out

Jacksonville’s local TV stations are reporting on the latest Waste Management no-bid contract survey conducted by American Public Dialogue. The survey says:  More than eighty percent of the 400 adult Jacksonville residents interviewed oppose the Mayor giving Waste Management a no-bid contract.  And the number of adults who are aware of the Waste Management no-bid contract issue showed a marked increase from the previous survey in January.  Back then, only 30% of the people surveyed were familiar with the issue; now, 70% of the people surveyed are familiar with the issue.

The Mayor’s spokesperson, Misty Skipper, claims Jacksonville’s citizens just don’t understand….that the survey questions were too simplistic for such a complex issue….that essentially Jacksonville’s citizens couldn’t really understand the issue without the Mayor’s 45 minute presentation.

I respectfully disagree.   Jacksonville’s citizenry has had numerous opportunities over the past few months to educate themselves on the issue – with all sides getting to state their arguments in support of their position.  Over the past year, quite a few articles have appeared in the Times Union, on TV stations, and in local blog posts such as those here on Jaxpolitics. (You can find Jaxpolitics’ posts by searching “Trail Ridge” or “Waste Management” on the site.)  In addition, Waste Management’s main competitor, Republic Services, has been making presentations at recent CPAC meetings as evidenced by the meeting minutes for several of the CPACs.  And the TU even posted the draft contract so that citizens could read it and decide for themselves.

Thank goodness City Council members give Jacksonville’s citizenry more credit than the Mayor does.  Their deliberations on the matter start this week with a public hearing at 2pm on Thursday.

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Abel Harding: A Meeting With The Mayor & A Trail Ridge Analysis

A week or so ago, I was surprised to get a call from the Mayor’s Office stating that he wanted to meet with me.  According to his staff, he wanted the opportunity to present his side of the Trail Ridge story.  So, I spent nearly with an hour with the Mayor and his staff on a recent Monday discussing the Trail Ridge Landfill.

The first questions the Mayor asked are ones that I’m asked frequently: “Why do I blog?” and “Am I getting paid to do it?” I explained to the Mayor that I’m a believer in open government, in accountability, and in ethics. And no, I don’t get paid. There are no advertisers on this site and I receive no compensation for anything I write.  

The Mayor then began talking about the Waste Management no-bid contract. A little history: Trail Ridge is a 900-acre site off US 301.  There is currently one cell on the site which encompasses 144 acres.  That cell is managed by Waste Management, who had the winning bid in the early 90’s—the last time the City bid out the landfill contract.  The dispute between Waste Management and the City of Jacksonville boils down to a disagreement over the term “life of facility.”  The specific word “facility” appears to be the center of the dispute.  Waste Management alleges that they hold the rights to the entire 900-acre site, while the City contends that the term “facility” is strictly limited to the 144-acre cell currently in use.  As we have discussed before, the City’s general counsel at the time the original agreement was initiated, a Florida Coastal Law School professor, and the City’s current general counsel have all stated that the the contract is limited to the current operating cell.  And both the law school professor and the City’s current general counsel have stated that they believe the City is standing on firm legal ground.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Mayor digging in his heels on Waste Management no-bid contract

I just finished reading the latest developments in the Waste Management no-bid contract to operate the City’s Trail Ridge Landfill on the TU tonight.  Three – count them, three – companies have now come forward and want to bid on the Trail Ridge Landfill contract in a fair contest with Waste Management (and their negotiated no-bid contract) using the City’s bid process as required by the City’s ordinance code. 

And what does the Administration do?  They spout off garbage rates supposedly from other areas with absolutely no back up facts mentioned in the article, so you can’t even tell if they are making a fair comparison. 

And then, they have the chutzpah to say that anybody who wants to bid on the landfill needs to demontrate that they will be cheaper if they assume all the same liabilities and responsibilites that Waste Management has agreed to, even though the companies have already committed to doing  just that.  Ummmm, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Hollingsworth, isn’t that exactly what the City Ordinance requires be done in the bid process? 

To add insult to injury, Mr. Hollingsworth boldly states that  the companies who want to bid “must be willing to back the city if Waste Management files and wins a lawsuit.  “The real question is, are these opponents to this deal willing to pay those lawsuit damages in the event the city loses in court?” he said. ”

Funny,  I don’t see him making that same demand of Waste Management. 

Wouldn’t  the Mayor’s Office demands be more plausible and fairer if they also required that Waste Management meet those same conditions?  Shouldn’t Waste Management also be willing to back the City and pay the lawsuit damages, if the companies that want to bid file lawsuits and the City loses in Court?

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We’d like to bid, Mr. Mayor!

The Mayor may have his staff in weekly strategy sessions brainstorming for the best method to sell his (very) unpopular no-bid 35-year, $750 million contract to the voters, but other waste management (pun intended) aren’t sitting idly by. The Times-Union has already written about Republic Services’ interest in bidding on the Trail Ridge Landfill, but let’s add another company to the mix. Waste Industries USA, Inc has expressed interest in bidding on the business. According to their website, the company operates collections sites throughout the southeast and was named one of Forbes Best 200 Small Companies in 2007.  The company contacted the city on Tuesday (the 17th) and asked to be contacted if the city put out a request for proposal, indicating their willingness to bid on the contract.

There’s an interesting article floating around that draws attention to the fact that Waste Management and Republic Services control the US trash sector.  The article, in Forbes, poses an interesting question:

[Michael] Hoffman said the Republic and Waste Management own 573 of America’s 600 landfills, meaning they can sustain – and raise – prices without losing business. “If you control the ultimate disposal, you can’t gouge the marketplace but you can raise prices above inflation,” he said.

Perhaps the contract should be put out to bid.  With so much interest, you’d have to assume the city could get a few proposals to compare with the one Peyton seems intent on ramming thru.

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Waste Management no-bid contract to be considered in February

As reported by Sherry Hall from the Mayor’s Office during City Council’s Rules Committee agenda meeting, the Waste Management no-bid contract to operate Trail Ridge Landfill is likely to be ready for consideration by City Council the first cycle of February.  Of course, the Mayor and his good buddy, Paul Harden, have already agreed to it.  The only thing standing in the way of this bad idea being approved is City Council members with a spine.  Of course, Tom Ingram and his client, Republic Services, are still out there to try to block it as well.

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Waste Management no bid contract: So who cares anyway?

So who cares about the Waste Management no-bid contract anyway other than the waste companies? That’s a question that was recently posed here by Renfro, a commenter to one of our previous posts about the Waste Management no-bid contract.

1.  The Council Auditor has already said the rate the City has proposed to pay Waste Management is too high. In addition, the Council Auditor says the proposed contract extension should have more controls to ensure Waste Management doesn’t earn too much off the taxpayers. Here are the rest of the concerns the Council Auditor had.

So who cares anyway?

We all should care how the City government spends our hard-earned taxpaying dollars – especially if they are paying out more than necessary.  Those are our tax dollars -$14 million of them over the life of the contract that the Council Auditor says shouldn’t be paid to Waste Management.

2.  As has been pointed out previously in the press, the Waste Management contract does not meet City’s requirements for an exemption from the procurement process, and should be put out to bid.

So who cares anyway?

We all should care when our City officials do not follow the laws and rules that are in place. In addition, following the laws and rules by putting the contract out to bid could result in greater savings of taxpayer dollars.

3.  As far as Waste Management living up to what they say they will do (as Renfro states in his post), I note that in paragraph 3.7.1 of the original contract (at the bottom of page 42), the City disputes $1.1 million in costs incurred by Waste Management for a landfill gas field project – the original contract language says the cost were incurred without the City’s permission. In addition, the City is agreeing to dismiss any lawsuits they have against Waste Management for noise. And let’s not forget that in 2003, Waste Management agreed to repay the City $888,000 (the amount the City would have received in tipping fees) for disposing of trash in Georgia rather than the Trail Ridge Landfill in violation of its contract with the City.

So who cares anyway?

We all should care that the City wants to enter into a no-bid contract with a company that evidently does things without the City’s permission, a company that evidently refuses to abide by City laws and regulations to the extent that the City is compelled to file lawsuits against them, a company that evidently thinks nothing of violating contracts it has with the City.

So in answer to your question, Renfro: “So who cares anyway?”

I do.  In fact, we all should.

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