Friday, April 19, 2024

Trash talk and more on what immigration reform means to Florida

Trash talk

“We’ve already won,” Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein says of the city’s nearly two-year debate over its largest contract, for trash collection. Tonight, the city commission will decide how much residents could benefit from that victory.

Glickstein means that no matter which company gets Delray Beach’s business, the city will have awarded the contract the right way—through competitive bidding. The commission did it the wrong way in August 2012, when it extended Waste Management’s contract for eight years without seeking bids. Waste Management has had the contract since 2003, when it bought out Browning-Ferris, and never had to submit a bid until last year.

The change came because the commission that took office in March 2013 challenged the previous commission’s refusal to seek bids. That refusal came after the Office of Inspector General had disagreed with the former city attorney and city manager that Delray didn’t need to bid the contract. The commission hired a lawyer, and last March won without a trial. Waste Management then settled, paying the city’s legal fees and agreeing not to appeal in return for the city letting Waste Management stay on while searching for a permanent contractor.

After which, Delray began asking for those bids. After which, a selection committee ranked the five bidders.

The top choice? Waste Management, with only a minimal saving for residents.

There would be more savings if the commission went with Southern Waste Systems, which submitted the low bid and was ranked second. But under the committee’s criteria for ranking the companies, price counts for just 50 percent. Five other factors, among them experience and record of service, count a combined 50 percent.

Judging by email comments to commissioners, most residents want the added savings. Two of the comments are especially worth noting.

Ken MacNamee is one of Delray Beach’s self-appointed financial watchdogs, and he has a record on this issue. His complaint led to that inspector general’s finding on the contract. MacNamee, who lives on a canal east of the Intracoastal Waterway in one of Delray’s most affluent areas, calculates that Waste Management’s bid is 14 percent higher than that from Southern Waste Systems, which would mean at least an extra $9 million-plus for Waste Management over the seven years of the contract.

Josh Smith, who for at least 15 years has advocated for Delray Beach’s poorer neighborhoods, emailed the commissioners to criticize the price difference and the harm to low-income residents. All residents pay the same trash-hauling fee. Smith argues that Waste Management had many chances to lower rates in return for those years without having to bid, but did not cut residents a break. Smith also favors Southern Waste Systems in part because the company said it would hire six employees from Delray’s northwest and southwest neighborhoods.

Despite Glickstein’s comment that Delray Beach has restored the “integrity of the process,” there still are problems. Though the staff recommendation is for the commission to approve the committee’s rankings, the recommendation does not come from City Manager Don Cooper. He just started work this month. The recommendation comes from the chief purchasing officer and the chief financial officer.

Cooper did not choose the five committee members—four city staff members and Howard Ellingsworth, a Delray accountant and son of the late Ken Ellingsworth, a civic icon. Cooper did not decide on the criteria. Terry Stewart did all that while serving as interim manager. Cooper, though, will be responsible for making sure the winner lives up to the contract. Glickstein told me that Cooper “has questions about the methodology” the committee used.

As the memo to commissioners notes, after the committee’s last meeting city staff changed the price comparison in a way that narrowed the difference between Southern Waste Systems and Waste Management. The memo also says the contract “has been revised to conform to Waste Management’s proposal” and now “includes a new Exhibit 13, which described the ‘optional benefits’ and services offered by Waste Management in its proposal.” There is no similar exhibit for the other four companies.

The pricing change and the variables involved led Commissioner Shelly Petrolia to complain in an email to me that the commission will be looking at three numbers for its debate, not just one. She told me that she will be raising several issues, and it’s clear that she is skeptical about the committee’s ranking.

I spoke Monday with Commissioner Jordana Jarjura. She would not comment, saying she was still reading the material and waiting to meet with city staff. It does not worry Jarjura that Cooper was not involved, she said, because “I have faith” in the chief financial officer and city attorney who were very involved. “The core issue,” she said, “is the process. We need to get the best vendor,” adding that price is not the only issue.

Glickstein points out that the commission is awarding what could amount to a 12-year contract. The commission could accept the recommendation and open negotiations with Waste Management, reject the proposals, rank the bidders by its own standards or ask the selection committee to reconsider. “If you have to redo this,” Glickstein told me, so that the new city manager is comfortable with the selection and no questions remain, “so be it.”

I also contacted Commissioner Adam Frankel. He emailed to say that he would not respond to questions, because “over the last several months you continually have manipulated my positions and votes to facilitate your biased blogs to advance your own personal agenda.” Frankel voted to give Waste Management that extension in 2012, and he opposed the legal challenge to the decision.

Commissioner Al Jacquet voted against the 2012 extension and for the legal challenge.

It’s taken Delray Beach 2 ½ years to reach this point. If there are still too many questions after the discussion tonight, the commission should wait on the decision or order a do-over.

Immigration reform and Florida

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives made a political statement by approving a Department of Home Security spending bill that it hopes would undo President Obama’s 2012 executive order and 2014 executive action on immigration. In response, the woman who represents most of this area in the House will make her own statement.

Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat whose district includes Boca Raton, Delray Beach and coastal communities north to Palm Beach, will bring as her guest to Obama’s State of the Union Address an accomplished young woman to whom that 2012 executive order applies.

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Charlene Rupert has been spared deportation. According to Frankel’s office, Rupert came here from Venezuela with her mother, who had a visa. Rupert, though, was undocumented. Yet she graduated from Dreyfoos School of the Arts, attends Palm Beach State College and wants to be an immigration lawyer. Rupert can attend PBSC at in-state tuition rates, thanks to action last year by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

Frankel’s choice of Rupert is crafty. To many Americans, the stereotypic illegal immigrant is from Mexico. Even after the death of Hugo Chavez, however, Republicans especially consider Venezuela an enemy of America, even as most of them also opposed Obama’s actions to help illegal immigrants.

Three of the 10 Republicans who voted against their party on immigration are from Miami-Dade County. But many gerrymanded House districts nationwide have tiny foreign-born populations. So immigration reform can be vital to Florida and this region—attracting foreign entrepreneurs would be good for Boca—but a political liability to many lawmakers.

The Senate won’t go along with the House’s symbolic vote. The longer Congress waits to pass immigration reform, the more Congress hurts Florida.

••••••••

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.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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