Since its approval during a special meeting called on 24 hours notice in April 2014, the contract between Waste Pro and the Board of County Commissioners for solid waste services was dogged by controversy.
The contract became central to some of the most contentious board meetings in recent history, consuming hours of meeting time and repeatedly bringing high emotion.
So, that the county and Waste Pro would end up in litigation (related story) over one of the key provisions of the five-year contract is, in hindsight, not entirely surprising.
And it is worth considering that when the contract was approved the county had taken several actions that would impact the debate: commissioners ended yard debris pick-up, the county was going out of the landfill business and commissioners had debated for another year, while again taking no action, mandatory garbage pick-up.
Initially, the hope for that new contract was joining with the cities that already had mandatory garbage pick-up on a uniform contract throughout the county.
By the end of the year, county, city of Port St. Joe and city of Wewahitchka had entered into separate contracts.
Waste Pro took over solid waste collection in June 2014 with then-County Administrator Don Butler cautioning that there would “be bumps” along the way.
What follows is a Cliff’s Notes reconstruction of events over the first two years of the contract.
As they discuss the closing of Five Points Landfill, the subject turns to pledges from Waste Pro to construct a transfer station at Five Points and pave the entrance road by Jan 1.
Then-Commissioner Carmen McLemore expressed his skepticism Waste Pro would meet either pledge.
“They need to step up their game,” McLemore said. “They can’t even pick the garbage up.”
During a meeting that spanned nearly five hours, commissioners expended a significant amount of that time with Waste Pro and solid waste.
The transfer station, scheduled to be open, was not and the reason is that Waste Pro had yet to receive a state building permit to construct the station.
Waste Pro was using roll-off trailers and would for months to come.
“This was an issue you should have brought to this board long ago,” said then-Commissioner Joanna Bryan, addressing county staff and a Waste Pro representative.
Then-Deputy Administrator Michael Hammond said using roll-offs was costing Waste Pro while closing the landfill and switching to Waste Pro for solid waste disposal saved the county some $379,000.
The discussion was initiated by frustration over Waste Pro’s performance and costs.
Bills had fluctuated during the transition from Waste Management to Waste Pro, first a reduction followed by an increase to be followed by another increase.
In addition, Butler explained that $15 of each bill per quarter was linked to yard debris pick-up.
A resident also urged better dissemination of information to the public, contending the lack of information was creating an “uproar.”
McLemore, continued to complain about performance and argued the yard debris fee should be eliminated since “(Waste Pro is) not picking up yard debris anyway.”
Following the first meeting in January, Waste Pro was formally notified by the county concerning deficiencies in performance.
Two changes to the contract resulted, including eliminating $15 from quarterly bills while Waste Pro eliminated yard debris service.
Waste Pro committed to continuing the service, a selling point as the company lobbied for the county contract, only through February.
County crews performed a “sweep” of yard-debris in the county around March 1 at which point commissioner said they would count on property owners and code enforcement.
Discussion turned to commissioners’ frustration with the lack of progress on the transfer station and Novak advised that each day was costing Waste Pro penalties per the contract.
“We all knew there were going to be some bumps,” McLemore said of the transition of Waste Pro. “I am glad to see we are working through the bumps … we are moving in the right direction.”
McLemore and Bryan both make the case that the county has a serious roadside debris problem, with yard and limb debris along roads throughout the county.
Bryan contended the obvious solution was mandatory garbage pickup.
Staff provided possible options for moving ahead with mandatory garbage pickup and commissioners continued to express concerns with yard debris.
“It is a mess,” Bryan said. “This is the big issue.”
Waste Pro offered residential customers yard debris pickup for an additional $8 per month.
Hammond provided broad figures concerning costs of moving to mandatory pick-up, a presentation that would become a source of controversy between he and Bryan as all he would turnover, after much back-and-forth, were some figures on a single sheet of paper.
Hammond contended there would be no significant savings to mandatory garbage and it would not address roadside debris.
Then-Commissioner Warren Yeager said he wanted to hear more about the options, contending commissioners should have left intact the Waste Pro fee for yard debris pick-up.
“That was cheap,” Yeager said.
“Dalkeith, whiskey and steak” entered the debate.
After a comment from Bryan during the prior meeting concerning the Waste Pro contract having been negotiated during what was then a monthly men’s gathering in Dalkeith, Commission chair Ward McDaniel had a presentation, provided via Novak.
Novak covered the history of the Waste Pro contract and McLemore wondered how the BOCC could have done better.
Bryan, as she put it, doubled-down and continued into a broader statement about “how business is done in this county” and said the board had allowed too much “cronyism” to enter county business.
By the end of the meeting, McDaniel had put forward a 10-page proposal for deportment by commissioners during meetings; it was tabled.
By this time, it should be noted, commissioners, despite considerable protest from the public, had voted to conduct just one regular meeting per month instead of the traditional two.
In that meeting, Bryan motioned to find Waste Pro in default of its contract and to put solid waste services out for bid.
The motion received a second from Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr., who had already raised issues about the company’s performance, especially leaking trucks and missed routes.
A resident told the BOCC that one commissioner had opposed yard debris and now the county had a “serious” problem on its hands and no solution.
Novak noted that Waste Pro was paying penalties.
Bryan amended her motion to allow a full review by Novak and said yard debris was “only a tip” of what Waste Pro had failed to deliver.
She noted the transfer station was “an important part of the bid and now we are in September,” and the station has yet to be built or the road paved.
Waste Pro was the fuel to another conflagration between Bryan and McDaniel.
“There are continued complaints,” she said with issues such as late or no pick-up, leaking trucks, garbage left behind on streets.
“Service needs to be stepped up.”
Bryan continued to contend the county could secure a better deal and that Waste Pro was in “material breach” of the contract due to the failure, nearly two years after taking over the service, to build a transfer station and scale house.
Bryan compared the county’s contract to Wakulla County, which she had researched and found much more favorable.
“Other counties have a better deal,” Bryan said. “I can’t get my head around that that’s the deal we made for our taxpayers.”
And, she continued a war of words with McDaniel as chair.
“It’s clear to me Mr. Chairman that you do not want to discuss Waste Pro issues,” Bryan said. “You are in a contract with a company that is in breach.”
The meeting continued into the “Dalkeith, whiskey and steak” territory and the October 2015 quarterly men’s gathering, now in Howard Creek and which was sponsored by Waste Pro.
The meeting was held following a particularly contentious meeting about Waste Pro and along Doc Whitfield Road were signs, “Joanna Bryan Appreciation Night” and “Joanna Bryan” with the universal signal for prohibited in red.
The company said it had no knowledge of the signs.
The debate continued for some time, with Novak and McDaniel weighing in and discussion at times becoming personal.
Bryan argued commissioners and staff was supporting a contract which could be better and bemoaned the treatment she received.
“This is not an attack on Waste Pro,” Bryan said. “This is about Waste Pro doing business in the environment (this board has) created.”
McDaniel argued it was not a bad contract, but Bryan said he was again being an apologist for Waste Pro.
“My point is (a better deal) can be done,” Bryan said. “It doesn’t sound like this (contract) is what is best for the people.”
The first 35 minutes of a special meeting was consumed as Novak and Hammond took Bryan to task for comments during the prior.
The result was one resident being ejected from the meeting after shouting, “Do your damn business.”
Novak said he was providing “facts” and Bryan’s comparison’s of the county’s contract with that in Wakulla County, also contracted with Waste Pro, was faulty.
Novak said the county saved money by closing Five Points Landfill and argued that taking into account all services Gulf County came out ahead compared to Wakulla.
Novak said the transfer station, while more than a year late, was now open and functioning.
To date, the county has billed and mostly collected $65,250 in damages from Waste Pro, Novak said.
When adding in a credit for a certain tonnage given to the county, the total damages are nearly $120,000.
Novak also said Bryan’s comments about quarterly men’s meetings “attacked” he and his family with “untruthful” statements, calling her the “definition of a hypocrite” given her past criticisms of the way she is treated by staff and commissioners.
Hammond talked of “the lies that get told” and that the county must have a study completed in order to implement mandatory garbage.
Bryan argued a study was not required.
Hammond said it was an to the men’s meetings which are “not about politics; it is about fellowship.”
“Taxpayers are saving, customers are saving,” Hammond said.
Bryan was bemused by the entire meeting, saying McDaniel and staff might be protesting a bit too much.
Bryan said she stood behind every statement.
She said it was time for commissioners and staff to put on “big boy pants” and “get over it.”
“We are not looking at the big picture, to do the best for the people of Gulf County,” Bryan said. “We had an opportunity for 14 or 15 months to go back to the table (on the solid waste contract).
“You are setting the bar so low because you don’t have the mindset to go after these things or there is something else going on.”
Fed up with complaints, commissioners unanimously agreed to send a formal notice to Waste Pro concerning a host of what Hammond called “quality control issues.”
They include leaking trucks, routes missed, cans not provided and other problems that several commissioners said were out of hand.
After awarding a new solid waste contract to BCC Waste Services, the county earmarked $500,000 in grant funds to replace the transfer station Waste Pro demolished.
Waste Pro and the county are also involved in a lawsuit concerning that transfer station.