Sacred Cows and Hypocrisy at City Hall


sacred cow-1

by Michael Welber…….

When Key West city commissioners voted to override staff recommendations and choose a higher bid for trash pickup, people in the audience were stunned. But no one was more stunned than Jody Smith Williams.

Smith Williams played a central role in getting the city to hire Kessler Consulting. Their job was to study how trash in Key West was picked up and then recommend improvements. The key alteration was switching from two trash pickups per week to one. That approach was part of what came to be known as the 1-1-1 plan with one trash pickup, one recycling pickup and one for yard waste. What shocked her most was the return to two trash pickups per week.

For over seven years, she advocated for developing a resource recovery system based on expert consultation that would help Key West do something better with its resources than hauling all the trash all the way to Broward County and burning 93 percent of it in the waste-to-energy incinerator there.

City rejects lower bid

The city had in hand a lower bid for the trash contract from Advanced Disposal Systems, a bid they were required to take. However, commissioners Mark Rossi, Billy Wardlow, Tony Yaniz and Clayton Lopez all decided that Key West residents will pay approximately $ 3.50 more per month for garbage and recycling service starting January 2015.

These same commissioners objected vociferously when discussing a proposed 31-cent increase for residential garbage, if the contract option recommended by city staff had been approved.

“I want to give the residents a break,” said Wardlow, flying his populist flag.

Moments later, he adamantly insisted on going back to twice weekly garbage collection and handing the contract for the management of the transfer station to Waste Management, resulting in the $3.50 residential increase – more than 10 times what he had objected to.

Smith Williams wasn’t completely surprised.

“I was prepared for the majority of the commissioners to support Waste Management in the new contract, especially after listening to dozens of high-profile Waste Management fans sing its praises at the podium,” she said. “It was a seriously impressive Greg Sullivan love fest.”

Sullivan is Waste Management’s representative in the Keys.

Commission creates end run to justify choice

So how did the commission justify not selecting the lowest bid?

The scenario was a brilliantly executed end-run to manipulate the political process in order to reward an $ 8 billion dollar company, while ignoring the needs and financial well-being of local residents, businesses and our environment. Instead of Waste Management being outbid by the true lowest bidder, they got the contract and everything they wanted. The company will run the transfer station for an additional $ 300,000 per year or 55 percent above current costs. Two trash collections per week means running an additional set of trucks through the streets of Key West with all the associated greenhouse gas emissions, i.e., diesel fuel and its fumes.

Smith Williams says that she was naïve about the process.

“I would never have imagined that the commission would abdicate all fiduciary and environmental responsibility to line Waste Management’s already deep pockets,” she said. “It finally dawned on me that not only was the fix in for Waste Management to get the contract but also that the commission was willing go to any lengths and spend an additional $ 14 million to make it happen.”

Commissioners Wardlow and Rossi staunchly defended the “need” for going back to 2-1-1 service, despite having just heard recycling coordinator Will Thompson’s report that he hasn’t received one complaint since October about the new single weekly trash collection implemented last July. Commissioner Yaniz, steadfast on the dais in his support for 2-1-1, suggested in a conversation two days later that in fact, he hasn’t received complaints either. It seems it simply was the only way they could ensure a Waste Management victory.

The other three city commissioners – Teri Johnston, Jimmy Weekley, and Billy Wardlow – agreed, indicating that they had not received any complaints at all about the 1-1-1 system after the first couple of months.

Was choice legal?

Legally, the invitation to bid required that the contract be awarded to the lowest bidder. The recommendation made by city staff was for the cheapest option overall, to keep 1-1-1 service, for the city to maintain the transfer station, and award the collection contract to Advanced Disposal Systems, at a yearly overall savings of $ 507,000. Waste Management was the low bidder for only one of the four options presented – the one which included the running of the transfer station and going back to twice a week garbage collection, the one that will cost tax payers $14 million more over the seven-year contract.

During at least an hour of public comment, not a single comment was made in favor of going back to 2-1-1, yet Rossi jumped at the chance to move acceptance of the Waste Management bid. That was immediately seconded by Wardlow. The deal was sealed by Yaniz and Lopez. The entire process seemed decided ahead of time.

The decision flies in the face of positive results already achieved by the new system. Since converting to 1-1-1 service last July, the city’s recycling rate has tripled from its stagnant seven to eight percent to 21 percent. That’s because once a week garbage pick-up creates incentive for people to recycle more and reduce trash.

Smith Williams feels taken in by the turn of events.

“Shame on me, for having been fooled into believing the rhetoric about the city’s ‘commitment’ to recycling and sustainability,” she said.

Yaniz campaigned on recycling issue

Commissioner Yaniz, in one of his early campaign speeches, proclaimed that Key West should not only improve its recycling, but should also become the best recycler in the state. Yet his vote to take the city back to twice a week garbage service will have the opposite effect. The new system of collecting yard waste will surely suffer the most, since less conscientious residents will wish to get these large items off their property as quickly as possible.

Smith Williams said that she and her husband, local chiropractor and member of the Sustainability Advisory Board Dr. Ross Williams, only put their small trash bin out once or twice a month. Now they will be required to pay an extra $42.00 a year for a service they don’t need, rather than being rewarded for good stewardship. A system called “Pay As You Throw” – with people only paying for what they dispose of — incentivizes conservation. Key West now has a system that rewards the biggest wasters, to toss whatever they wish for their money. This move conflicts with the city’s solid waste master plan (approved by these same commissioners), which calls for a Pay As You Throw system in Phase II.

Smith Williams feels somewhat responsible for this reprehensible turn of events.

“I thought bringing industry best practices to light would help us become more like San Francisco with its 80 percent recovery of waste materials and less like, well, ourselves,” she commented. “I thought competitive bidding would present the best deal, and that our city leaders would want the best deal for residents and businesses and would follow the recommendations of expert opinion, and the opinion of staff members who know far more about the details of the issue than they do. Obviously I was very wrong.”

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  7 Responses to “Sacred Cows and Hypocrisy at City Hall”


    Very disappointed in the regressive mindset of the four that voted for WM..I would expect it from Rossi, but the others…? So much for being the shining example of recycling in the state of Floriduh.


    I was at that city commission meeting. I saw two things in play.

    One, who would get the bid – Advanced Disposal or Waste Management?

    Two, would Key West move toward being greener, or not?

    The second question first.

    I saw no move by anyone on the dais toward Key West being greener, nor any attempted move in that direction. Mayor Cates and Jimmy Weekley wanted to hold the line at once a week pick up, but they were for staying with Waste Management on the bid.

    During citizen comments, I said I hope some day the City Commission will pay more to have the city’s yard waste composted locally, so people can go get the compost and spread it on their yards and gardens. I said there was nothing going greener about paying anyone to haul the city’s yard waste to the mainland.

    It didn’t matter who got that bid, the city’s yard wastes were going to be hauled to the mainland. Waste Management could compost the city’s yard wastes locally, but the City Commission would not pay for it. That was gone round and round about before.

    As for the low bid, not yet reported in the Citizen, or anywhere, as far as I know, but at my website,, a citizen speaker said he was a company numbers guy, and he had looked at Advanced’s financials, and Advanced had lost money for the past several years, and it had incurred a huge bond debt, and he wondered if that could be paid back, given annual losses, and on that basis alone, Advanced’s bid should be rejected; and, he said, Waste Management had a good earnings record and was No. 1 in waste management in US.

    Another thing not reported, except at my website, as far as I know, it was seen in city staff’s presentation in favor of Advanced, that its bid was based on it using humongous waste pick up haulers, which only had one operator, which used lifts to pick up wastes, thus were cheaper to operate, but they could only serve one side of a narrow street and would have to turn and come back the other way to serve the other side, and what about one-way streets with garbage and yard waste and recyclables on both sides of the street to be picked up?

    A Waste Management representative said they have the same humongous trucks on the mainland, but they don’t use them in Key West because of the narrow streets in Old Town – Waste Management’s bid was based on using smaller trucks, which meant also more employees per truck, and that cost more.

    Then, there was the transfer station component, for which Waste Management’s bid was some lower than Advanced’s.

    It didn’t even look exactly like apples and apples to me; it kinda looked like apples and oranges instead. And it looked nuts, because basing it all on the lowest price for something that important to the city – garbage, yard waste and recyclables pick up, was a really bad idea.

    As one citizen said, we accepted the lowest bid for the North Roosevelt Blvd redo, which was about $50,000 lower than the sedond lowest bid, but the second low bidder could have done the redo in half the time it will take the low bidder.

    Tony Yaniz said, in hindsight, it probably was a bad idea to put the waste bid out to the lowest bidder. He was right. And, from how I read the mayor and commissioners, every one of them. except perhaps Teri Johnston, agreed with Tony.

    Even Mark Rossi, who howls long and loud about saving city money at all costs, was really against going with Advanced. Also, Margaret Romero, who just as consistently pushes for cutting city spending costs, spoke strongly against Advanced’s bid.

    I, too, was against Advanced’s bid, for the reasons reported above. However I was not happy about going back to 2 times a week pickup, which looked to me was going to happen no matter which company was awarded the bid.

    Fish scraps make good compost; they can be buried in holes and shrubbery planted over. Fish scraps can be taken back to sea and dumped and make lots of sea creatures happy. Laziness looked to me to be why people complained about fish scraps being picked up twice a week again. Laziness, and lack of interest in the city going greener.

    If the city really was interested in going greener, all yard waste would be composted locally. Recycling would be mandatory, not elective. People would be fined for not recycling, by the waste company, add it to the tax bill of the property owner. Or, simply don’t pick up wastes not separated for recycling, and let the neighbors work it out in the old fashioned ways.

    If the city really was interested in going greener, all new construction would be required to have solar systems, which tie into Keys Energy’s grid. Private property owners would sell their unused solar power to Keys Energy, and buy Keys Energy power when there was no sunlight. The city will not let property owners go solar in that way. Of all places in Florida, Key West should be fully solar by now.

    Key West should be using cistern collected rainwater throughout the city for irrigation and washing vehicles, etc.

    Key West should be using its treated waste water for irrigation, washing vehicles, etc., instead of pumping it into deep injection wells.

    Key West should have community gardens scattered throughout the city, for growing vegetables, tropical fruits and flowers.

    Are any community gardens planned for Truman Waterfront? I haven’t heard that. I have heard a great deal of money will be spent making it into a pretty tropical botanical park.

    The backside of Higgs Beach park lies fallow, a big community garden could be put there.

    Every yard in Key West could have raised vegetable beds and tropical fruit trees.

    Key West could stop selling Aqueduct water to cruise ships, which like to fill their water tanks here before heading south.

    To bring about those kind of changes, to really have Key West go green, will mean a major change in thinking in the city government, and in the people who elect city officials.

    Perhaps the uproar over Waste Management getting the bid will spark that major change in thinking.


    I should have included in my report of the waste contract city commission meeting, it came out mainly through Mark Rossi’s questioning of city staff, that the bids actually were not “firm”, whichever company got the contract, there would be “negotiations”, and that bothered Mark.

    For example, after the humongous truck issue arose, an Advanced representative said Advanced could use smaller trucks in Old Town. He did not say that would cost Advanced more to operate. which would become part of the post-bid “negotiations”.

    Perhaps I didn’t understand it correctly, but two things seemed to cause the waste contract cost to increase considerably, which would have happened either way the contract was awarded.

    1. going back to two pick up days a week

    2. the waste company taking over the city’s waste transfer station operation completely

    Advanced’s nearest other operation was Islamorada, and above there was West Palm Beach, based on a phone conversation I had earlier that day with a woman at Advanced who said she had prepared Advanced’s bid to Key West.

    The Advanced employee in charge of the Islamorada operation said told the City Commission he would be in charge of the Key West operation, if Advanced got the Key West contract. He did not say where he would live. Waste Management’s manager lives down here, is super active in Key West affairs, and that got made a lot of hay of by a lot of Key West citizen speakers in the audience.

    The best way to grasp what all happened that night, if you did not attend that meeting or watch in on Channel 77, is to watch the entire video of that meeting, a copy of which I believe can be obtained from the City Clerk’s Office.


    Some of the best citizen commentary taking place these days goes on right here at The Blue Paper. Arnaud and Naja ought to provide a moderated forum for such discussion here at The Blue Paper web site. It appears that it (the “paper”) is hosted at or by WordPress. Does anyone know whether they offer such a forum capability?

    Well said, Alex and Sloan.

    Sloan, your writing is becoming more crisp and cogent.

    And, re “Are any community gardens planned for Truman Waterfront? I haven’t heard that. I have heard a great deal of money will be spent making it into a pretty tropical botanical park.”

    Yes, there is a community garden planned for the Truman Waterfront. The plans have been reviewed and approved by BVRAC. It’s a joint effort among BVRAC, TWAB and the city’s Sustainability Committee and Coordinator.

    See here:


      Hi, Bob – looks to me the discussion forum already is in place. I can reply just to you, for example, and when my reply is cleared from moderation, anyone reading reader comments below the main article can see yours and mine, as well as all other reader comments.

      Thanks for the link. Yes, I’d heard there would be a community garden for Bahama Village, but according to what came up, only can be used by Bahama Village residents, 30 to 50 at most raised beds, total project cost $50,000.

      I wonder if that’s still good, after the city took 4.4 of the 6.6 acres mentioned in what came up, which was done some time ago and spoke of the cost of the community garden for just 2013 being $27,000.

      The kind of community garden I envisioned for Truman Waterfront would be massive compared to what is allocated for Bahama Village; available to anyone living in the city; each gardener supplies hiis/her own raised beds, dirt, manure, seeds, seedlings – no chemical fertilizers. An ORGANIC community garden – as in, a GREEN community garden., The city supplies the land and water for irrigation.

      Yeah, probably when pigs fly. Instead, the city will import and plant lots of ornamental trees and shrubs, which the city will have to irrigate and maintain. Keys Energy’s “Growing Greener Every Day” slogan, and the “keep Key West clean and green” part of Mayor Cates’ campaign platform, leaves this old organic gardener thinking maybe the definition of growing greener in Key West is making more greenbacks and spending other people’s greenbacks.

      My writing has always been cogent, Bob; I never had any problem understanding it :-). The different reports I have seen on the waste contract selection didn’t seem particularly cogent to me, not in the grammar and sentence structure sense, but in the what didn’t get reported sense, which perhaps would not have been convenient for the position taken by the person who did the reporting.

      Naja and Arnaud do a really good job trying to cover all the angles in what they cover.

      There was a great deal of emotion (heat) in the waste contract selection. For me, it boiled down to going for the lowest price, screw all other criteria, was a really bad idea; it should not have been set up that way; and that giant buzzard flock came home to roost in spades at the city commission meeting.

      As did the farce of the city going greener. For this city to go greener will require a huge shift in thinking. A good start would be nobody gets in, or on, a private motorized vehicle, who does not absolutely have to use it. I’m thinking lots more walking and bicycling. Lots less cars, trucks, motor scooters, bicycles, conch trains, trolleys, on city streets.

      When pigs fly.


      Amen Bob, what would we do without The Blue Paper – the only research based news in the Keys. The truth is out there and probably only Naja and Arnaud are going to uncover it.
      Several points: A community garden? Really Bob? You don’t really believe everything you are told or read do you? We have followed the Waterfront park for far too long and we both know there is some unknown agenda. A little ‘in the know’ bird just told me in the last week or so that the promised start date for the park of June 1st has been pushed back – SURPRISE! Not.
      On the Cities selection of WM for the trash hauler…I was the only environmentalist who spoke against spending $400 – 425,000 on hiring Kessler. In fact Kessler called me to meet with them and to ‘talk’. I did and I was not impressed. Why did I not support the ‘trash study? Several reasons: First Jody, I and several others provided the City with several other recycling initiatives and other cities recycling programs and how KW could implement them. NO one in the city wanted to listen. 2. I didn’t think the city needed to spend that kind of money in those/these economic times. 3. The city loves ‘studies’ and I knew this one would do nothing but sit on a shelf and would not accomplish the end we had all been promised. Also I believe we originally were told by Kessler that fee included their negotiating a new contract. Then we were later told after we drank the Kool-Aid, that it was not included. Billy Wardlow did not like that. SO how much did we pay Kessler for this negotiation where we gained NOTHING – it now only costs the tax payers MORE for garbage pickup and we really lose with twice a week pick up! KW only knows how to move backwards. And number 4 – I knew NOTHIN WOULD CHANGE with a $400,000+ stydy – because NOTHING EVER CHANGES IN KW FOR THE BETTER.
      I won’t say I told you so to my environmental friends, they all had good intentions, but they was sold a bridge in the desert. I am afraid I have seen this too often – common sense and good decision making just does not happen in KW


    My flub, where are Key West people going to get dirt for that huge community garden, since the city ain’t composting its humongous yard waste? Some local building contractors will be happy to supply dirt at a swell premium price. Bagged dirt and compost can be gotten from Home Depot on North Roosevelt Blvd, and also seeds and starter vegetable plants, and wood ties, concrete blocks and rocks for making raised beds, and gardening tools – shovels, hoes, rakes, hand trowels, water hoses, sprinklers, etc. Home Depot delivers the heavy items locally.

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