By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Well-run cities are all alike; every corrupt city is corrupt in its own way.
Hollywood is a good example of the latter. Dragged by its dysfunctional mother, Mayor Mara Giulianti, the city keeps sliding further into the stinking sludge. I mean that almost literally, since the latest scandal centers on the city's attempt to find a company to treat and remove its biosolid waste (yes, that would be a polite term for shit).
You've probably heard the basics by now. In March, the commission chose a firm, Minneapolis-based Schwing Bioset, which had proposed a cost of $15 million more than the firm ranked best by a committee of experts. One explanation: Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom performs work for Schwing Bioset that financially benefits both him and his law partner, Stacey Giulianti, the mayor's son. Wasserstrom even represented the company before officials of his own city, including Public Utilities Director Whit Van Cott. Since I wrote about it (see "Ooh, That Smell," April 15), it's been in the daily newspapers, and the Broward State Attorney's Office has begun an investigation. Next week, the commission will decide whether to overturn the vote and take new bids for the job.
Now, I could write pages about all the irregularities in this Schwing Bioset deal, about the strange changes in the initial bidding process, about the environmental questions and the mysterious involvement of the Seminole Tribe, which has apparently promised to receive the waste on its land in the Everglades. I could talk about the suspicious sales commissions the city plans to pay to the company and Van Cott's contradictory attempts to smear any competitors. And I could describe the involvement of a fast-talking buffalo farmer from Oregon named Larry Wakinyan who coaxed Wasserstrom to join Schwing Bioset last year.
Those are all damning facts for the investigation, but what I'm interested in showing now is the powerful emotion and pathos displayed by the city's chief proponents of Schwing Bioset. The passion surrounding the contract is a telltale sign of malfeasance; it's the pounding of heartbeats under the floorboards.
It began with the March meeting, which included presentations by representatives of both Schwing Bioset and the top-ranked firm at the time, Florida-N-Viro. After admitting she had an apparent conflict of interest, Giulianti proceeded to lead the meeting anyway, interrupting and grilling N-Viro reps mercilessly while giving Schwing Bioset a free ride. Wakinyan offered an unsolicited denial that he'd bribed anyone, and Wasserstrom gave an impassioned speech about the "immense pain" Native Americans feel when raw human waste is transported in trucks.
It was weird, folks.
Two months later, on June 16, Commissioner Beam Furr, who cast the deciding "yea" for Schwing Bioset in March, told the commission he'd changed his mind. He had done some research and come to the conclusion that the best companies in the nation, including industry giant Synagro, had been excluded from the process by Van Cott's narrow bidding requirements.
So he made a motion to rescind the vote. What happened after he made the motion should be taught in civics classes to show just how depraved the democratic process can become. I'll describe it in rich detail. Enjoy the show:
With Schwing Bioset's deal in jeopardy, Giulianti quickly fell into full panic mode on the dais. Her eyes twitched uncontrollably. She nervously rubbed her chin and methodically stroked the back of her hair. As Furr spoke about the flawed process, she fidgeted for a while before loudly interrupting the commissioner in midsentence.
Addressing City Attorney Dan Abbott, she asked if her conflict of interest would preclude her from voting on Furr's motion. Abbott calmly informed her that she should not cast a ballot. Then Giulianti began rambling.
"I think it's just totally -- totally -- inappropriate...," she said of Furr's action. "I mean, there has been a lot of money spent, I would assume, and this could open us up to legal action."
"Legal challenge from...?" Abbott nudged.
"We have had people who have responded to, um, whatever we call it. RFP? Was it an RFP?"
"Yes," Abbott answered.
How reassuring. The mayor, while discussing a contract worth tens of millions of dollars over the next several decades, didn't even know it was based on a "request for proposal."
The mayor continued, referring to Schwing Bioset: "Then they expended money and God knows how many weeks flying back and forth. I am very uncomfortable... I want to ask your opinion if we are vulnerable in any way that you could see legally."
"No, I don't think so," Abbott said.
There went the legal card. For the next several minutes, Abbott and other commissioners explained the rules of government to the flustered Giulianti, who muttered things like, "It's embarrassing and upsetting."
Furr, a school teacher by trade, then addressed Van Cott, a burly man with thinning brown hair who looks younger than his 57 years. He asked a simple question about the process.
"I believe the confidence of this commission has left me...," Van Cott said in a loud voice teetering with emotion. "I don't know that I can continue to do this. I can't pull rabbits out of hats. You have gotten the very best of me during the last nine years. My real question is if you still have confidence in me as a utility director, because if you don't, I am leaving. OK?"