VIERA, Florida -- A controversy erupted last month during a Brevard County Commissioners meeting regarding audio-recorded negotiations between County staff and Waste Management representatives which addressed the “community support” component of the vendor proposals.
At the center of the storm was Waste Management's proposed community donations to sweeten the deal during the proposal selection process. Waste Management had three projects it proposed to donate to: The Brevard Zoo, the politically entrenched Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, and the "Field of Dreams" organization where Commissioner Robin Fisher holds a seat on the Board of Directors.
While the donation to the Brevard Zoo generated little controversy, the donations to the other two organizations and the selection of the more expensive proposal by the County was met with allegations of political cronyism made by residents during the public comments portion of the Commission meeting. The turmoil left Commissioner Andy Anderson visibly sweating and County Attorney Scott Knoxx angrily defending his office staff.
After discussion, the County Commission approved the Waste Management contract by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Anderson and Trudie Infantini were the two "No" votes.
During a Bill Mick Live morning radio show where Bill Mick and Matt Reed discussed why FLORIDA TODAY gave a "thumbs up" to the Field of Dreams donation, Commissioner Infantini called into the show and said, "Somebody needs to call in FDLE or the Attorney General because there is something not Kosher with this whole transaction." Infantini added that the original Waste Management proposal would cost taxpayers $43 millions more over ten years versus Waste Pro's original proposal.
So how did the Field of Dreams and the Space Coast EDC get chosen for Waste Management's "Community Support" contributions?
Dawn McCormick, who is a Waste Management spokesperson and also in charge of the company's community contributions, told Brevard Times that the company had a selection panel made up of company staff which chose those three organizations. However, Ms. McCormick would not go into detail as to just how the Field of Dreams and Space Coast EDC came in front of the panel for contribution consideration. She did confirm that there was not an open grant solicitation made by Waste Management to give all charitable organizations in Brevard an opportunity to apply for those community involvement donations.
In addition to the controversial "Community Support" donations made in connection with contract proposal, Waste Management already supports other Brevard County organizations such as Brevard Nature Alliance, Keep Brevard Beautiful, International Coastal Cleanup (Trash Bash), Brevard Zoo, Brevard County Parks and Recreation, Cocoa YMCA, Titusville YMCA, Honor America/Melbourne Veteran's Day Parade, and Runaway Country.
What role, if any, did County staff play in the selection and award of Waste Management's "Community Support" contributions?
The Brevard County Attorney's Office (BCAO) went into great detail in response to a Brevard Times inquiry as to the role of County staff in the contract award process. The response, drafted in memo form by Assistant County Attorney Morris Richardson, maintains that:
"As an initial matter, it is important to understand that both vendors made voluntary representations regarding their community support within their proposals. Waste Management specifically delineated its planned contributions as a corporate citizen and community partner. It is these voluntary commitments made months ago that have become the subject of misguided controversy in recent weeks. If one actually reads Waste Management’s proposal, it is readily apparent that County staff did not negotiate, solicit or direct the amount or beneficiaries of these contributions. Waste Management’s community commitments did not change in any way between the vendor’s September 13, 2012 proposal and the conclusion of staff negotiations on February 1, 2013." (Emphasis added).