Linda Grist Cunningham: Trash talk: What were Key West commissioners thinking?

On May 7, four Key West city commissioners outnumbered the other three and made one of those decisions that rankles days later, can’t be explained in anything other than snarky political sarcasm and will likely haunt the city for years to come.

They brought back twice-a-week garbage pickup.

Oh, I know, you’re sitting there thinking how nice it would be to get your trash hauled twice a week. Bear with me.

Because that’s not all they did.

They awarded Waste Management a seven-year, $53-million contract, thumbing their four collective noses at the fact that Waste Management was neither the low bidder nor the staff-recommended vendor.

The commission sent the trash contract out to bid months ago, promising the community that good fiscal stewardship — meaning take the lowest bid — would prevail.

At the same time, the commission committed to a major recycling and sustainability program that included yard waste recycling as well as the usual paper, plastic and cans. Everyone got big blue bins on wheels to go along with the green garbage ones.

The trade-off, which eliminated related cost increases, was once-a-week pickup. Yes, there was howling and apocalyptic prognostications, none of which came to pass.

Considering Key West’s recycling rate a year ago was 7 percent and today it’s three times that, the program clearly is working.

So, let’s see where we are:

–Advance Waste Disposal, the low bidder, gets the shove. Go away now. You were useful in getting Waste Management to shave a bit off its overall bid, but we never intended to honor the bidding process because we really, really, really think Greg Sullivan, Waste Management’s local executive and former Chamber of Commerce president, is a great guy. (Full disclosure: Sullivan is a nice guy; I’ve met him. This, however, was supposed to be a business decision, not a congeniality contest.)

–Key West commissioners have an odd sense of fiscal prudence. Taxpayers likely will shell out upwards of $14 million more over the contract’s seven years than had the city opted to go with the low bidder and kept the transfer station in-house.

–For no good reason, twice-a-week garbage collection returns. Costs go up; already clogged streets get twice the garbage truck traffic and carbon emissions; trash cans return to permanent street-side residence because why bother bringing them in when you just have to put them out again.

–Businesses do not have to recycle. Nothing new here, but you ought to know there’s no mandatory recycling for all those hundreds of thousands of beer, liquor and wine bottles, plastic cups, food containers and cardboard boxes that flow from Key West’s restaurants and bars straight into massive, half-block long lines of rusting dumpsters awaiting to disgorge into the garbage trucks.

So, what were they thinking? Not about fiscal responsibility, credible contract bidding or environmental sustainability.

Linda Grist Cunningham is proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a project management company in Key West. A journalist, executive editor and editorial page editor for more than 40 years, she moved to Key West in 2012. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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