By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Oakland Park Commissioner Anne Sallee was hired last month by a law firm that’s lobbying to resuscitate Waste Management’s proposed $1.5 billion trash deal with Broward’s cities – a deal her city has firmly opposed.
Sallee’s new job is with Fort Lauderdale’s Ruden McClosky. Her hiring has led to sniping by competitors who complain from the shadows about leaks of inside information. It also has caused expressions of concern from Oakland Park’s incoming mayor.
“It does have an appearance of a conflict,” said Vice Mayor Suzanne Boisvenue, who is to become mayor next month. “Now she has a decision to make.”
Sallee, hired January 5 by Ruden McClosky as a corporate and estate paralegal, said in an interview that she will ask the state’s top ethics panel to determine if she has a conflict.
“I will be contacting the state Commission on Ethics and will ask for their opinion,” Sallee said this week. “I take my elected position very, very seriously.”
Sallee said she was unaware “of any relationship” between Ruden McClosky and “any waste handling company” before being contacted by a reporter.
“The firm has 125 attorneys in nine offices in the state. I’ve only been there six weeks,” Sallee said. “It was clear from the beginning that I’d have no involvement in the firm with any issue related to local government…To suggest I would use my position as a commissioner to benefit my employer is patently absurd.”
Salle declined to discuss her salary at Ruden, noting that she is not required to release that information under state disclosure law. “But it is in line with my years of experience as a paralegal,” she said.
Dennis Mele, a Ruden lawyer and lobbyist who represents Waste Management, said there is no conflict because Sallee has nothing to do with his work for the giant trash company.
“I’ve never spoken to her. I wouldn’t know her if I ran into her,” Mele said.
The Waste Management subsidiary Wheelabrator owns and operates Broward’s two waste-to-energy plants where much of the county’s trash is incinerated or recycled. The current inter-local agreement (ILA) between the company and 26 Broward municipalities and the county expires in 2013. Five cities, including Hallandale Beach and Pembroke Pines, do not participate.
The proposed new ILA would run for another 10 years, with an option for 10 more. To be approved, the ILA must represent at least 51 percent of the population of all the cities in the current agreement and at least 80 percent of the waste delivered to the waste-to-energy plants in 2009.
Disposal fees would be cut by about a third under the new ILA.
Still, the big-dollar deal ran into stiff opposition at some city halls because it was negotiated by Broward’s Resource Recovery Board without competitive bidding. Opponents say that despite the cuts it would continue to generate huge profits for Waste Management at the municipalities’ expense.
Waste Management had sought to win early approval by dangling tens of thousands of dollars in “signing bonuses” to cities who signed up by Dec. 31. That ploy failed, however, when county commissioners refused to approve the pact that month, saying they could not justify its costs to residents and businesses.
Breakaway cities, led by Miramar and Oakland Park, soon began working together. Their approach is twofold: seek bids from competing firms, or hammer out a fresh, market-based deal with Wheelabrator.
Oakland Park City Manager John Stunson told his city commission last week that “two-pronged approach” was “well underway.”
Miramar Public Works Director Tom Good said bid documents should go out within “a couple of weeks.” More than 10 Broward cities have expressed interest in participating.
Good said the request for proposals that’s being contemplated is for the disposal of municipal solid waste only, the bulk of disposal costs. It does not include costs for recycling.
“But there are better solutions for that, too,” Good said without elaborating.
The county’s unexpected vote to reject the $1.5 billion ILA proposal was a major blow, but Waste Management’s forces have regrouped. Visitor logs at the county show that company officials and lobbyists, including Ruden McClosky’s Dennis Mele, have met privately with commissioners about the ILA since January.
Mele declined to discuss it.
What’s next is unclear.
There’s talk that some of the 13 cities that have approved the proposal – including Hollywood, Plantation and Coral Springs – are considering forming a consortium to sign a similar, less sweeping deal with Wheelabrator.
At the county, no date has been set for commissioners to revisit the matter.