Apalachicola city commissioners have rejected a proposed five-year contract extension with its current trash collection company, and hope to strike a deal Wednesday, June 29 with the other company vying for the job.
At a special meeting June 21, Apalachicola city commissioners voted 4-1, with Mayor Brenda Ash voting no, to reject a proposed contract with WastePro, the national hauler that has been handling the city’s trash needs for several years.
The existing contract is set to expire Thursday, June 30, placing before the city the uncomfortable possibility of having all of its commercial and residential trash receptacles pulled by WastePro in advance of the busy Fourth of July weekend.
“We have put ourselves in a position that as of June 30, we will not have a service provider on record,” said Ash.
Backers of the move to reject the WastePro deal then voted 3-2, with Commissioner Anita Grove and Ash opposed, to begin negotiations with the second company vying for the deal, Waste One, a locally-based company with offices in Eastpoint, where WastePro also operates a local office.
In that motion, the commissioners backed a provision inserted by Adriane Elliot for a 4 p.m. meeting June 29 to OK a possible deal with Waste One.
“I do understand the dire consequences,” said Commissioner Donna Duncan, whose motion received a second from Despina George. “I have not been satisfied with this service.”
She said she was unwilling to enter into a long-term deal at the 11th hour with a carrier of whom both she and many neighbors have criticisms.
“If we reject both bidders, it is clear our other option is to start over. I don’t want to feel pressured to agree to a contract I have concerns about,” said Duncan.
“I have not been pleased with the service of WastePro through the years,” said George, noting that during recent months, as the contract was being negotiated with city officials, including City Manager Travis Wade and City Attorney Dan Hartman, she expected to see a marked improvement.
“I would have expected we’d be getting top rate service,” she said. “There have been many weeks where garbage isn’t picked up for several days after scheduled pickup. It’s sort of frustrating.
“We have had a three-year contract, and now the proposal is to lock in to a five-year contract,” said George.
Hartman told commissioners WastePro, which had been operating under the terms of a nearly decade-old contract that it extended twice, told the city it would get better pricing if it agreed to lock in rates for five years.
“If it’s locked in for five years, which is somewhat of an industry standard, it would assure a lower rate,” he said.
Loyd Childree, who heads up WastePro’s local office, asked commissioners not to review publicly the contrasts between what its three-year and its five-year pricing would look like. Hartman then declined to outline the differences between the residential rates, which form the vast majority of the matrix of various commercial and residential rates.
“Until that negotiation fails, it is probably inappropriate to discuss and play one against the other,” said Hartman. “You have to put your faith in the scoring committee.”
The composition of the three-person scoring committee was a key part of the criticism of the WastePro selection made by Mike Richards, owner of Waste One, at the outset of last week’s special meeting.
“I asked for a fair bid, I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “I turned in a proposal, has any of you elected officials seen my packet?”
Richards said Waste One is a local company with 15 local employees. “I believe WastePro has one,” he said.
He said his company invested a great deal of money to order equipment to meet the July 1 start date. “I bought all of that stuff for your timeline,” Richards said. “I have hundreds of thousands of dollars riding on this.”
He suggested the presence on the three-person selection committee of Janelle Paul, who handles the city’s utility billing, led to bias against his company, but did not elaborate.
Also serving on the selection committee was Bree Robinson, the city’s grant administrator, and Mark Gerspacher, the city’s newly hired finance director.
“I don’t know what I’ve ever done one way or another. I don’t think that was fair,” said Richards. “And then you take my packet and it’s all backroom. I have not heard one thing other than at the last meeting what was said.
“No one reaches out, no one has spoke with us,” he said. “I’m local, born in Carrabelle and raised in Eastpoint. I started out on the oyster bar. Everything I have I’ve worked out, every bit of it. There were nine kids in my family, nothing was handed to me.
“This is not right,” Richards said. “I reached out to do local business with our local communities. I don’t know why you don’t think people can handle the city of Apalachicola. Is it that big that we have to do backroom dealings?
“You have not really even considered what we have and done. You’ll need to think hard what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re shipping it all to Midway (WastePro’s regional headquarters). You all don’t want to keep none of it in the community. This is a large sum and the locals deserve an opportunity.”
Hartman took issue with Richards’ comments, as well as assertions by Waste One’s attorney, Bill Preston, who raised questions that the Invitation to Negotiate process had violated the state’s Sunshine Law. Preston said the ranking process was possibly subject to the Sunshine Law, and that he planned to pursue additional public records requests.
“Whether that qualifies for those exceptions (to the law) I don’t know,” he said. “If those (committee deliberations) were not noticed and made available to the public, that could be a problem going forward. You can’t retroactively address the issue, you can’t unring the bell. If there was not compliance, that could affect the validity of that contract.”
Hartman said the three members of the committee, acting separately, had each ranked WastePro best, and that resulted in their emerging on top and enabling them to begin talks with the city on the contract.
“One of the biggest criteria was price and experience and WastePro scored higher,” he said.
The Invitation to Negotiate process, which had been recommended by a consultant the city hired last year, meant whoever the committee ranked highest would have first shot at hammering out a deal.
“You make your best offer and then it’s scored and we have to negotiate with the selected bidder,” Hartman said. “The competition is within the two proposals. Once somebody is selected we have to negotiate in good faith with them. Both parties are encouraged to put their best foot forward.”
Hartman said the most significant aspect of WastePro’s proposal was a rate adjustment based on fuel costs as well as the overall consumer process index (CPI).
“I’m a bit hesitant to tying it to the consumer price index,” said Ash. “I would like to see further discussion on that.”
Hartman said the adjustment to the CPI would be made on 90 percent of the overall rate, and that the adjustment for diesel costs would be made to 10 percent of the overall rate, on a quarterly basis.
Childree said WastePro would be willing to delay the fuel adjustment to 2023.
“We have not passed that along to anybody,” he said. “I would waive that until the following year and hopefully the fuel component is more stabilized.”
Prior to the vote, he urged commissioners to take into consideration changes the company made in recent months, and to note that Waste Pro has met and exceeded any and all of the criteria called for in the proposed contract.
“That management change I feel will result in dramatic changes,” he said. “That’s my guarantee, that’s my word, that we’re going to move forward in a positive way.
“Over the last two to three years with COVID, there were situations way outside any of our control,” he said. “We had labor issues and we continue to have labor issues. There’s not an industry out there not suffering from labor issues.
“We have fuel issues and supply line issues,” Childree said. “I take this contract very serious and it has my attention. For the most part I will assure you the issues that you experienced will not continue to happen.
“We recognize some of the issues some of our customers have experienced and I’m here moving forward to address all of that,” he said.
He said that the switch from alley pick-up to front of property has led to satisfaction after initial complaints. “My understanding is that those issues have dropped dramatically,” he said. “Traversing alleyways was difficult at best.”