Oakland Park mayor asks for investigation into officials crafting no-bid, billion-dollar trash deal

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Oakland Park Mayor Susanne Boisvenue, left and Broward Commissioner Ilene Lieberman

The Inspector General’s Office has been asked to investigate whether members of the county’s Resource Recovery Board have violated Broward’s tough new ethics code.

Oakland Park Mayor Suzanne Boisvenue, who quit the board in December, made the request late last month in an email obtained by Broward Bulldog.

Her concern: board members may be violating strict new rules that prohibit elected officials from interfering in how contractors are selected.

The board, known as the RRB, is the governing body of Broward’s Solid Waste Disposal District. Its members include nine elected commissioners and mayors from municipalities across the county, including Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman who serves as chair.

The possible interference involves who will get the billion-dollar job of disposing of much of Broward’s trash. The decision will affect how much homeowners and businesses pay for that service for years to come.

For the past three decades, trash giant Waste Management has had a lock on disposing of municipal trash that’s hauled to two Broward waste-to-energy incinerators. Both incinerators are owned and operated by Waste Management subsidiary, Wheelabrator Technologies.

But lately, an aggressive competitor whose public face is the politically influential west Broward landowner Ron Bergeron, threatens that monopoly.

Bergeron is pursing the contract in a partnership with Lantana-based Sun Recycling.

CONTRACT STEERING?

Boisvenue said she resigned from the RRB because of her concerns about the board’s repeated evaluations of various bid proposals, and plans to make a recommendation to the county commission. She believes the board, led by Lieberman, is trying to steer the contract to Waste Management.

“That’s exactly what I think,” the mayor said in an interview this week. “I think it crosses the line.”

Her email to Inspector General John Scott asks whether “the advisory RRB to the county should be involved in reviewing bids in any way.”

“I request that you investigate the matter,” she said.

Scott would not comment.

“We don’t confirm or deny whether we are investigating,” Scott said.

Broward’s ethics code says, “It shall be a conflict of interest for any elected official to serve as a voting member of a selection/evaluation committee in connection with any prospective procurement by the elected official’s governmental entity.”

Elected officials cannot serve on selection committees, nor can they “participate or interfere in any manner” at committee meetings. They can ask questions and express concerns only after the selection process is completed.

The new code took effect Jan. 2 for city officials. For county commissioners, it took effect when it was enacted in August.

While the RRB is not a selection committee, its voting members serve in a similar advisory capacity to the county commission. As elected officials in their own right, they would also be eligible to vote in their hometowns on any deal that might emerge through the RRB.

Since September, the RRB has discussed and rejected plans to issue its own request for proposals and advanced the idea of awarding a no-bid contract with Wheelabrator.

A DEAL IN THE WORKS

City managers from several RRB-member cities have been negotiating a deal directly with Wheelabrator, in meetings closed to both the public and disposal competitor Sun Bergeron.

The RRB heard an update on those negotiations Jan. 19 from Weston City Manager John Flint. He said cost has yet to be worked out, but the framework would be a five-year deal with options.

Broward Bulldog reported last week that after Flint appeared before the RRB, Broward Commissioner Lieberman said that she will shortly bring to the full county commission the concept of a new no-bid Wheelabrator deal, but no firm agreement.

On Monday, via email, Lieberman called Boisvenue’s assertion of contract-steering “preposterous.”

“No one…is trying to steer anything to Wheelabrator and the correct chronology of events and what ..the RRB (has) determined have been explained to Mayor Boisvenue many times. However, she seems incapable of understanding these important details,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman said, too, that Boisvenue was “misinterpreting the county’s ethics ordinance.” As proof, she cited a three-page legal opinion dated Feb. 6 by RRB lawyer Eugene Steinfeld. The opinion was written in response to a Jan. 25 inquiry from Oakland Park Assistant City Manager Horace McHugh.

Steinfeld acknowledged that the RRB “is expected to consider matters of vendor selection” and “may be considering the award of a contract.” Nevertheless, he wrote, “I believe this would not be in violation of the county’s new ethics code ordinance.”

The RRB’s current push for a no-bid contract resurrects a scenario that county commissioners rejected in December 2010 after cities objected that disposal rates the board had negotiated were too high. That proposal called for a 10-year, $1.5 billion no-bid deal with Wheelabrator.

Outrage about how the RRB pushed that deal led the Miramar City Commission to go out for bids on their own. The prices it received through competitive bidding were significantly less than those contained in the initial Wheelabrator proposal.

But Miramar has yet to actually award a contract that other cities might want to piggyback on, and no date has been set to do so. That that has created uncertainty that’s allowed renewed talk of a no-bid deal for Wheelabrator.

Reporter Buddy Nevins contributed to this report

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3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Ilene Lieberman says:

    Your “information” is very wrong. It is disturbing that I e-mailed you the people and information you needed to review before writing your blog. Your comments clearly show you did not do that. That is unfortunate for your readers who may mistakenly believe you are reporting “actual” facts, which you clearly are not.

    First of all, as Chair of the RRB, I did not state that I would shortly bring to the full county commission the concept of a new no-bid Wheelabrator deal, but no firm agreement after Mr Flint’s presentation to the RRB, as I was not even present at the presentation by Mr. Flint. The minutes of the meeting will support this information.

    You also state that since September, the RRB has discussed and rejected plans to issue its own request for proposals and advanced the idea of awarding a no-bid contract with Wheelabrator is also factually inaccurate. The facts are that the RRB asked the executive director to survey all the partner cities asking if they thought there was any value to staying together as a district. Based upon those responses, the RRB determined there was not any purpose in putting anything out to bid or negotiating anything. Again, the minutes of the RRB ‘s meetings will support this information.

    Wheelabrator has given notice to the RRB and the County to invoke a provision in its existing contract whereby Wheelabrator can offer the County and other partner Cities a 10% discount off the disposal fee in their response to Miramar’s RFP. As the Miramar contract begins after the expiration date of the existance of the district, the RRB attorney has determined that the section of the existing contract does not apply and the RRB has not had any other discussions on this matter.

    With respect to Mayor Boisvenue’s comments that RRB members are violating the County’s code of ethics, she was given a copy of the RRB’s attorney, Eugene Steinfeld, stating that she was incorrect in her position and clarifying the duties of the RRB.

    Secondly, no one is steering anything to anyone. If you read the minutes of the RRB meetings over the past few months, which are public records, you will again find that the Mayor’s statements are clearly erroneous.

  2. Marilyn L. Shaw says:

    IF the meeting of the City Managers in discussion with Wheelabrator is completely above board, with no complicit agreements made, spoken nor unspoken, that would imply pressure on local city Commissions, then the subject meetings under discussion should happily allow at LEAST an investigative news reporter’s attendance to report the content results of such meetings. Any less openness DOES imply secrecy of the individual Managers’ views expressed publicly among their peers but not to the community agency which pays their salaries to represent and advise them.

  3. Jhon quesadilla says:

    This Susanne is literally trash, one of the reasons Florida homeless popation is so high, her ignorant leadership strained the imagination, then she quit. We’re all better off without ignorant trash like her.

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