Smelling fishy

Delray Beach’s search for a trash-hauling contract has become a mess.

Last week, the city commission was to decide whether to accept a selection committee’s recommendation of Waste Management even though the company was not the lowest bidder. Instead, the commission deferred, and this morning will hold a special meeting to decide if the commission should act as the selection committee and make its own rankings.

Complicating matters, the commission probably will hold this discussion before City Manager Don Cooper and City Attorney Noel Pfeffer have concluded their investigation into possible violations of the bidding rules. Their investigation stems from emails that may have gone from Waste Management to a Delray Beach employee after the city had asked for bids, at which point contact with the city was to have stopped unless a company was contacting the purchasing director. A resident sent the emails to commissioners, and not to Cooper and Pfeffer.

Whatever the content and intent of the emails, the names on the email string are noteworthy. They include Mary and Kevin McCarty, the couple who went to federal prison on corruption charges related to Mary McCarty’s time on the Palm Beach County Commission. The McCartys still live in Delray Beach, where they operate a business called Cypress Consulting.

They include former Delray Beach Mayor Jay Alperin, a McCarty political ally from their days on the city commission in the late 1980s, and Marie Horenburger, also a former Delray commissioner and a current lobbyist registered to work in Delray Beach and for Waste Management. Horenburger worked for neighbors of the Costco northwest of Boca Raton in 2001 when Mary McCarty was trying to block construction of the project.

The names include Tom Carney, the former Delray mayor who lost for reelection in 2013 to Cary Glickstein. Carney was rumored to have been getting help from Mary McCarty. Carney denied it.

Neither Mary nor Kevin McCarty is a registered lobbyist. But the names on the emails also include those of two other lobbyists registered to work for Waste Management: Ellen Smith, a company employee and Harold “Butch” Carter. The names of other Waste Management officials are on the list.

Finally, on the list is the name of Delray Beach’s outside consultant on the trash contract.

One obvious question is how a publicly traded company such as Waste Management might come to associate even indirectly with the McCartys? And why would Waste Management do so after all the talk in 2012 that the couple was helping Waste Management as it persuaded the city commission to extend the company’s contract without competitive bidding, despite city rules that Delray Beach had to seek bids? Why would Waste Management do so after the charging documents in Mary McCarty’s case referenced her activities in Delray Beach? Could Waste Management even believe that at this point Mary McCarty’s help mattered?

By his comments, Glickstein had come to Tuesday night’s meeting prepared to accept the recommendation on Waste Management, praising the company’s “exemplary” service – “until I saw the emails.” For him, the names carried “the same stench” as in 2012. Glickstein said, “I want to look at Waste Management and say, ‘Have you not learned anything? Can’t you just get something on the merits of your proposal?’”

In an interview Monday, Commissioner Jordana Jarjura expressed concern because “there are so many open-ended questions.” Even if the city finds that there was just a “technical violation,” the contract is the city’s largest, “and there is so much hair on it” from developments over the last 30 months that anything unexpected and controversial becomes problematic.

Aside from the emails, those “open-ended questions” concern how the city’s committee—whom the previous city manager appointed—ranked the five bidders.

Price accounted for 50 percent of a company’s ranking, but Glickstein said he doesn’t know what criteria the committee used in assessing the non-financial factors that made up the other 50 percent. Petrolia questioned why Southern Waste Systems, the low bidder, got penalized for proposing 17 trucks to Waste Management’s 20 when the request for proposal didn’t list a minimum truck number.

The Delray contract comes at an interesting time for Waste Management. Broward County recently broke up the company’s monopoly. Last fall, the Wellington Village Council voted to put the trash contract out for bid. Waste Management has had it since 2009. As in Delray Beach, the company’s officials and supporters touted the good service while opponents stressed the virtue of competitive bidding.

A Waste Management spokeswoman said of today’s Delray Beach commission meeting that the company “will be available to answer questions.” She declined to answer questions about the emails and possible violations “involving multiple haulers” until the city completes its investigation.

As a city, Delray Beach continues to grow. In terms of politics, Delray still is trying to outrun its past.

Davy deep-sixes

Chris Davey, who nearly won a spot on the Delray Beach City Commission last year, is withdrawing from this year’s Seat 3 election on March 10.

Davey told me Monday that he faces an unexpected family issue that will demand a lot of his time. His departure leaves Bruce Bastian and Christina Morrison in the race to succeed term-limited Adam Frankel.

Scott’s Texas crush

Gov. Rick Scott regularly calls Texas the state he wants Florida to emulate when it comes to economic development. Scott cites the state’s job creation and anti-regulation culture.

The comparison, however, is faulty. Florida relies much more on tourism, and Texas relies much more on energy development. One big reason for Texas’ job creation in the last few years is the development of hydraulic fracturing— “fracking” —which allows recovery of oil and gas that had been out of reach. This is especially true of shale formations; the Eagle Ford Shale in southern Texas is the center of the state’s energy boom.

Florida has limestone formations, not shale. And in 2009, when oil and gas companies tried to get the Legislature to allow drilling in state waters, then-Senate President and current Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater blocked the move. An oil spill close to shore could ruin the beaches on which the tourism industry depends.

Moreover, the drop in oil prices shows that energy dependence is risky. Though the drilling industry represents a greater concentration in the economies of smaller states where fracking is a recent development, the industry does make up nearly 20 percent of the Texas economy. Wells Fargo recently concluded that with lower oil prices “in dollar terms, Texas is likely to suffer the largest loss.” The number of rigs in production could drop by one-third over the next several months.

Admittedly, Texas added about 500,000 jobs in 2014. But Florida knows what booms and bubbles can do. In early 2007, with houses and condos sprouting up on spec and not because of real demand, Florida’s unemployment rate dipped close to 3 percent. Then the bubble burst.

In practical terms, Florida isn’t competing with Texas for jobs. We’re competing with states in the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest. Florida also had a good year for job creation. Scott should save his Florida-Texas comparisons for football.

Boca goes global

Sunday was perfect for an afternoon at the Boca Raton Art Show, which took over two blocks of Federal Highway and spilled over into Sanborn Square.

The day was cool, the crowds pleasant. People navigated, often with their dogs, from booth to booth. After checking out the art, my wife and I and our friends walked through Mizner Park and enjoyed some wine and cheese outside at The Cheese Course.

Over those roughly three hours, I heard at least six languages other than English that I thought I could identify. It was another reminder of how cosmopolitan Boca Raton and South Florida have become in the nearly 25 years since Mizner Park opened.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.