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
Corruption and conflicts of interest have already sullied the City of Hollywood's multimillion-dollar sewage deal. Now it appears the March vote to choose a company with financial ties to Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom was based on false claims.
The City Commission decided to hire Schwing Bioset to treat and haul tons of biosolid waste after officials from the company and city claimed that a deal had been struck with the Seminole Tribe to accept the resulting sludge on its Big Cypress and Brighton reservations in the Everglades.
The issue came up at a July 7 commission meeting when Vice Mayor Beam Furr made a motion to rescind the Schwing Bioset vote. Utilities Director Whit Van Cott urged commissioners to consider the tribe's promise. "The best advantage we have with Schwing Bioset is the Seminoles...," said Van Cott, an ardent supporter of the company. "If they don't come back, you people are out of luck."
The city, however, never had the Seminoles' commitment in the first place, according to Jim Talik, executive administrator of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. "We are under no obligation to accept anything from the City of Hollywood," he said. "All we have agreed to [do] is to look at it. What we want to do is test this stuff first. We have one load that we are testing right now. We're so far removed from this whole thing. Maybe down the road, we will be involved, but so far, we've just been kind of dragged into it."
Adds Travis Trueblood, the tribe's attorney: "We have never had any contact with the city or with Schwing Bioset. We have nothing to do with the City of Hollywood at all."
Van Cott, in an e-mail to New Times,conceded that the city didn't verify the tribe's commitment. "I am not sure who the right contact people are at the Seminoles," he wrote. "Our draft contract is with Schwing Bioset."
At the heart of the misinformation is Larry Wakinyan, a buffalo farmer from Oregon who runs a company called Bionative Technologies that has partnered with Schwing Bioset. Wakinyan, who hasn't returned numerous calls from New Times, hired Wasserstrom's uncle and arranged for the commissioner, who is the law partner of Mayor Mara Giulianti's son, Stacey, to represent Schwing Bioset before other municipalities.
Wasserstrom has repeatedly played up the phantom Seminole involvement in his bid to win the contract for Schwing Bioset. The Broward State Attorney's Office is investigating his ties to the company,
In a much-distributed July 9 e-mail that Wasserstrom wrote to city critic Sara Case defending Schwing Bioset, the commissioner reiterated the false claims. "It does not matter to you that we upset the Seminole Indians... who we need to cooperate with the redevelopment of 441?" he wrote. "Do you know that they have not returned a phone call from the city since the contract... has been pulled from the table?"
Talik said he doesn't know who Wasserstrom or other officials have been trying to contact but promised that if anyone at the city phoned him, he would return the call.
Wasserstrom continued: "Do you really think the Native Americans in this country would be applying [Schwing Bioset's product] on their ancestral lands if they thought for one second it was not the only and safest way to return the nutrients to their famished soil?"
The company uses an environmentally questionable lime-stabilization process that could add to pollution in the Everglades, which is one reason the Seminole haven't agreed to accept it.
"Do you or anyone else think that the Seminoles will stand for being treated the way they have been treated by Hollywood?" Wasserstrom wrote. "They were promised that they could count on getting their soil amendment material by fall."
This is all sheer fiction to Talik.
On July 21, the commission will decide whether to rescind the Schwing Bioset contract. The revelation that the vaunted Seminole endorsement is a sham should nail the coffin shut on Wasserstrom's ill-conceived and sleazy plan. And it should lead to the resignations of those who misled the public, including Van Cott and Wasserstrom, since they were either negligent in finding out the truth or willfully lied in their attempts to sell their favored company to the city.
Can a discussion of conniving and deceitful public officials be complete without a mention of the North Broward Hospital District? Of course not.
For a moment, let's forget about the criminal investigations and insider deals that waste millions of dollars at the sixth-largest public health system in the country. Don't fret about the abject cronyism that stretches to the Florida governor's mansion and White House. Cast aside any concern about the unseemly collusion among greedy political opportunists.
Just focus on the way the district, which cashes in on about $200 million in property taxes a year, trashes our most cherished right: free speech.
The district has shown so much contempt for freedom and the press that it should probably be added to the enemies list in the War on Terror. For instance, district officials barred the New Timeswebsite from its computers after I wrote a series of stories that exposed wrongdoing at the district. They also ordered a security guard to throw away a box full of our newspapers at Imperial Point Medical Center [see Tailpipe, May 6]. When the guard, Howard Schulman, complained about it, he was first demoted, then fired.