After an 11th-hour turn of events that saw Apalachicola end its 15-year partnership with WastePro, and award its five-year exclusive garbage contract to its competitor, trash collection has continued unimpeded throughout the city.
Beginning June 30, the day after the city commissioners voted unanimously to award the contract to Eastpoint-based Waste One, both firms have made sure to hit the ground running.
Waste One has been busy distributing the first of more than 1,100 new 96-gallon plastic cans it will service in the city, with regular residential pickup slated for Mondays.
WastePro has been equally diligent, making sure to fulfill its promise to Apalachicola Main Street to have two dozen cans available for the Fourth of July weekend, even though its contract with the city ended June 30.
“For the last 15 years we’ve become part of the community,”said Ralph Mills, WastePro’s senior vice president for the coastal region. “Every festival, every event, we’ve never turned anybody down. We intend to honor what they asked us to do.”
Mike Richards, owner of Waste One, and his wife Paige told commissioners they were also committed to acting on the contract right away.
“We want to start that immediately,” said Mike Richards. “We got the cans on the dock.”
While both companies have come through to avoid a potential catastrophe on one of the busiest tourist weekends of the year, Wednesday’s special meeting was not without sharp wording by both sides, following a 10-day stretch that began with commissioners nixing a proposed contract with WastePro, which had tallied the most points during an Invitation to Negotiate process.
At that June 21 meeting, Waste One’s attorney Bill Preston alleged possible Sunshine Law violations by the city in selecting WastePro to be the one with which City Manager Travis Wade and City Attorney Dan Hartman would negotiate.
“It makes me wonder if they (Waste One) haven’t violated some kind of Sunshine law,” Mills told commissioners June 29. “Why would they spend this kind of money unless they knowingly knew they would get this contract?”
Waste Pro’s Loyd Childree, who manages the national company’s Eastpoint office, told commissioners in advance of the June 29 vote to award the contract to Waste One, that while there had been complaints about his company’s performance, they were a very small percentage compared to the more than 1,000 residents they serve.
“There may be some complaints out there but when they were put out there, we took care of them,: he said, also noting that his company had done all it could to pick up “massive amounts of yard waste,” even though it was not often bagged as stipulated in the contract.
“It’s never bagged but we try to pick it up,” he said.
Childree also voiced displeasure at comments made by city commissioners that he saw as different from the usual discussions that happen when a company is not awarded a successor contract.
“That wasn’t the case this time,” he said. “When we left here we were insulted, that our work ethic and our people were disparaged like they were.”
Mike Richards too walked back his comments from the June 21 meeting, during which he had suggested that there had been a bias by one of the members of the three-person selection committee that had scored Waste Pro the highest.
“I was very frustrated and didn’t understand how everything works,” he said. “We appreciate the consideration of doing the service. I look forward to hopefully working with you all.”
Mayor Brenda Ash thanked Richards for his apology. “The words that were spoken last week, they were a pretty deep cut. The comments planted seeds that made it seem like our staff was doing something underhanded.
“That’s not how we operate; we are transparent,” she said. “I feel offended as a leader of this city that that seed was planted. I don’t like that mentality.”
Following the vote to award the contract to Waste One, Ash asked whether this incident would be a problem going forward, and Paige Richards reassured her and her fellow commissioners that it would not be, and that they would mend fences.
The only issue that surfaced in discussing the terms of the contract was a provision in which the rates would be adjusted, up or down, based on changes to the consumer price index (CPI). While there are a whole matrix of different residential and commercial rates and fees in the new contract, the key one – the monthly rate paid by residential customers – will be roughly the same, at $23.
The new contract caps the CPI adjustment at not more than 3.5 percent. Commissioner Donna Duncan, who expressed concern that the CPI adjustment would be pegged to a big-city or regional calculation at odds with the city’s particular CPI, said she was reassured by the cap being put into place.
The commissioners also wondered whether the 6 a.m. starting time for garbage pick-up might be at odds with the city’s noise ordinance. Commissioner Adriane Elliott said the ordinance has an exception for trash pick-up, and the Richards said they would begin no earlier than 7 a.m. if that is the requirement.
In addition to awarding the contract, the commisisoners also voted to waive a provision in the terms of the Invitation to Negotiate that would require applicants to have at least two contracts of at least 750 customers to be able to apply.
Hartman said that provision had been waived to emable Waste One to apply, and that it was now up to the commission to decide whether a similiar waiver would apply to the awarding. He noted that Waste One’s large number of customers on St. George Island and throughout the county meant they exceeded the combined 1,500-customer minimum.