By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
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.
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