Ooh, That Smell

Hollywood commish profits on biowaste

That facility, however, didn't have controls like the one planned for Hollywood will. Furthermore, the evaluation committee visited an N-Viro plant in Syracuse and found that the end product had no "significant odor." The N-Viro plan did call for seven more truck trips a day, but is eliminating that worth $15 million?

Van Cott insisted last week that he is not biased, though he does acknowledge that Wasserstrom introduced him to the process and that the commissioner's uncle has contacted him on behalf of Schwing Bioset.

"Where there is smoke, there is fire," Florida-N-Viro Vice President Harris Bowers counters. "This was fixed from before day one."

Wasserstrom, a former Ivy League cheerleader, now roots for a sewage company.
Wasserstrom, a former Ivy League cheerleader, now roots for a sewage company.

More smoke: On March 12, Bionative's Wakinyan e-mailed Wasserstrom a letter that reveals just how deeply rigged the process was. In it, Wakinyan writes that officials from the city and Schwing Bioset decided to negotiate a deal on March 18 -- one day after the commission meeting. Travel arrangements had already been made. "We have certainly appreciated your support in the past... and look forward to that support in the future," Wakinyan wrote Wasserstrom.

The timing is also interesting -- it was the first meeting after the March 9 elections. Wasserstrom admitted that the Schwing Bioset vote was intentionally pushed past the election because he was concerned that N-Viro representatives might publicly complain of corruption on the city's part. How exactly Wasserstrom gets to decide the timing of votes -- which is supposed to be dictated by city staff -- isn't clear. Call it the power of love.

The meeting -- which should go down in the annals of perverse civic history -- began with Giulianti, who declined to comment for this article, and Wasserstrom both recusing themselves from voting. (It was covered by neither the Sun-Sentinel nor the Miami Herald.) Despite the recusal, Giulianti conducted the meeting -- and her bias was soon evident. As N-Viro lawyer David Mancuta made the company's case, she repeatedly interrupted and, reading from notes, criticized the Punta Gorda firm. Her allegiance was clear even before she declared, "I believe Schwing Bioset is the best in dealing with the community."

Some recusal.

After N-Viro made its case, Wakinyan laid it on thick for Schwing Bioset. Dressed in jeans and a colorful Native American shirt, the barrel-chested buffalo farmer, who has long black hair and wore a feathery necklace, took the podium and appealed to the commissioners' spirituality. "As native people, we look several generations down the road...," he told them. "We're asking that you take that journey with us mentally and spiritually."

Then, without prompting, he offered this denial: "We've done nothing under the table. We've paid no kickbacks, and we will never do that. We simply do not operate in that fashion."

After Wakinyan protested too much, Van Cott urged the commission in a loud and passionate voice to ignore the committee's recommendation and hire Schwing Bioset.

Commissioner Fran Russo called Van Cott's representation "one-sided" and said she didn't think it was a good idea to overturn the bidding process.

Commissioner Peter Bober asked, "Why in God's name do we have [a bidding] process?"

He also asked the $15 million question: Why was Schwing Bioset so much more expensive than N-Viro?

Schwing Bioset representative Tom Lyons literally stammered his way through a non-answer. "It's, it's, it's a fair price," Lyons said. "It's, it's a lot of equipment here, a lot of technology, it's, you know, again, it's, all I can say is, be careful, be careful, there's always a..."

Lyons was dumbstruck -- he couldn't come up with a word.

Then Wasserstrom said something inaudible from the dais.

"That's right," Lyons said. "You get what you pay for."

Other commissioners understandably seemed confused. Beam Furr said he felt more time was needed to make a decision. Giulianti and Wasserstrom quickly shot down Furr's suggestion that they visit an N-Viro plant. An inexplicably angry Sal Oliveri repeatedly yelled that he would go along with whatever Van Cott recommended. Cathleen Anderson also seemed agitated and kept asking that the Seminole Tribe help the city pay for the project.

Into this sea of uncertainty sailed Wasserstrom, a former University of Pennsylvania cheerleader, who pleaded with his fellow commissioners to vote for Schwing Bioset. "We have the Seminoles, who are very excited about how this is going to improve the environment and improve dirt," he said. "I just honestly became very fascinated by it and very supportive of [Schwing Bioset's] product... Driving raw sludge through our streets -- it's crazy that is going on right now. As Native Americans, that pains them immensely, and I've heard their pain."

Improve dirt? Heard their pain?

Then he reiterated his belief in Schwing Bioset. "I wouldn't be going to other county commissions and telling them [about Bioset] if I didn't believe it," Wasserstrom said. "The reps are extremely aboveboard and honest. It's not a close call... I cannot vote, but I encourage you to do the right thing for the City of Hollywood."

The elderly Anderson, who wears a huge pair of black eyeglasses under her white hair, then beamed at Wasserstrom and said, "I want to thank you for that very enlightening talk... I'm sure that you are just as brilliant as anybody else in this room."

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