Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Waste Management Lawsuit Is On

This should come as no shocker to anyone.

Waste Management filed a lawsuit against Jacksonville on Friday, fulfilling its promise to sue over the Trail Ridge landfill.

The company has asked U.S. District Court to review the current landfill contract and determine whether the city has breached its agreement. Waste Management believes it has the right to operate the entire 978-acre site; the city says the company only has the rights to operate the current 144-acre mound.

Last month, the City Council rejected Mayor John Peyton’s plan to give Waste Management a contract extension worth an estimated $750 million over 35 years. At the time, Peyton said his proposal would avoid a potentially costly and time-consuming legal battle with the company.

On Tuesday , the council passed a bill that requires the city General Counsel’s Office to obtain a legal resolution to its contract dispute.

Chuck Dees, Waste Management’s vice president for public affairs in Florida, said via a news release that the lawsuit will give both sides what they want: a resolution to their long-standing contractual dispute.

Visit Jacksonville.com for the full story.

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General Counsel’s Gag Order is Working

The City’s General Counsel, Rick Mullaney, must have issued a gag order to City Council concerning the no-bid contract for the operation of Trail Ridge Landfill.  The bill authorizing waiver of the City’s procurement code and entering into a contract with Waste Management to operate the landfill was withdrawn 18-0 with nary a peep from Council members.

Now on to the lawsuit portion of the program.

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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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Times-Union Calls for Ethics Investigation

The Times-Union has called for an Ethics Commission investigation into the actions of the Mayor and key members of his Administration in regards to the Trail Ridge Landfill.  Chief among the concerns are the actions that members of the Administration took when dealing with Waste Management.  More specifically, did the City compromise its own case by sharing inside information with Waste Management’s lobbyist AND was the Mayor aware of that action.

There are possible legal and ethical concerns arising from the team approach Peyton’s administration and Waste Management used to lobby the council to pass the proposed contract.

Mosley told council that Waste Management became viewed more as partners rather than adversaries after reaching the negotiated deal.

He said he should have consulted with city attorneys before sharing some sensitive information with Harden about past employee contacts regarding the original contract. Mosley acknowledged the lines became blurred. He expressed regret for any damage he may have caused the city.

What understandings did the mayor or others in the administration reach with their so-called “partner” on this issue to the detriment of the city?

Neither Fussell nor Webb wanted to go there at the meeting. And the public also missed out on the chance to hear if Mullaney’s office factored into what happened. Other mayoral staffers enjoyed the same break.

Webb’s move to withdraw the bill and council’s eventual approval ensured that no further testimony would be heard. Fussell could have intervened and called for the vote later but didn’t.

The city Ethics Commission is a fitting place to air out these questions, even if it lacks the power to compel testimony.

But the troubling ethics issues underscore the need for an independent Ethics Commission with the ability to explore what happened and take action, if warranted.

As the Times-Union points out, however, the Ethics Commission has no power to compel testimony, raising the likelihood that few of the parties would voluntarily appear before the Commission.  A state grand jury investigation or even better, a federal investigation to look at  potential honest services fraud on the other hand, might be something that is more capable of delivering answers.

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Mayor Loses Round One

From WOKV’s Jared Halpern:

At a special City Council meeting set to gather information on a controversial landfill contract extension, lawmakers abruptly agreed to a recommendation that could kill the $750 million Waste Management offer.

As many as nine men were expecting to offer sworn testimony to Jacksonville’s City Council. Instead, lawmakers only called their own attorney, General Counsel Rick Mullaney, to the podium to answer an array of legal questions concerning the city’s current contract with Trail Ridge landfill operator Waste Management.

“You still very strong that the city would prevail if we had someone sue us, correct?” councilwoman Denise Lee asked in one exchange.

Mullaney response: “No lawyer can guaruntee you an outcome.”

After about 90 minutes with Mullaney, lawmakers voted on a recommendation to withdraw the Mayor’s request to accept a renegotiated contract extension with Waste Management.

The Council of the Whole’s vote is not binding, but the 11-7 vote sets up final City Council action as early as Tuesday and provides a clear forecast of how lawmakers view the no-bid offer.

“Yeah, I’d say that was a pretty good guage of what the next vote will be,” council member Ray Holt said following the meeting. Holt voted against withdrawing the bill. He wants more information from key players and criticized fellow council members for rushing to judgement.

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Truth or Dare

Most of us have played the Truth or Dare game in our lifetimes – particularly as teenagers.  You know, the Truth questions are the easy no-brainers that allow you to learn more about your friends.  But when a person picks Dare, they are generally afraid to tell the truth about things. Maybe they have something to hide and are afraid to get asked any question.

The adult version of Truth or Dare is happening this afternoon.  City Council will be asking questions of all the parties involved in the continuing Trail Ridge soap opera with the parties supplying answers under oath.

Will Peyton and his staff answer Truth? or Dare? 

Stay tuned.  With allegations of underhanded dealings, pressure to sign inaccurate affidavits, and the Mayor’s alleged request that City staff not be required to testify under oath, this soap opera is far from over.

In the meantime, I just couldn’t resist this you tube video on the subject of Truth or Dare. Enjoy.

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A TRUE Commission Member Speaks Up

A member of the TRUE Commission shares his thoughts on the Trail Ridge controversy.


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TRUE Commission Takes Stance Against the Mayor

From Tia Mitchell at The Florida Times-Union:

An advisory board tasked with improving Jacksonville’s fiscal policy is recommending the City Council to vote down the mayor’s Trail Ridge landfill deal.

The Taxation, Revenue and Utilization of Expenditures Commission, in an unanimous vote Monday, said the city should solve its legal issues with Waste Management instead of giving the company a contract extension worth an estimated $750 million over the next 35 years.

You can find the article in its entirety at Jacksonville.com.

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