Deck the Halls With Waste and Folly

Just don't ask too many questions about a sweetheart trash contract in Florida's most complacent city

Alu, who blames the political isolation she felt the first years on her tactless stridency, has learned to "pick my battles." Pragmatism appears to have won out over idealism. "You don't move your agenda in Sunrise by shoving it down someone's throat," she says.

Later, Alu would corner Salerno and City Attorney Register for a tête-à-tête. "I told [Salerno] I didn't want to publicly criticize him," Alu says, "but I let him know I was disappointed."

C. Katz
Two relatives of Commissioner Joseph Scuotto  have landed jobs at All Service since he took office.
Two relatives of Commissioner Joseph Scuotto have landed jobs at All Service since he took office.

Whenever Sunrise needs a little extra money, All Service Refuse is, like a rich uncle, ready with the checkbook.

Topping the city's wishlist in the mid-1990s was the annexation of Bonaventure, an unincorporated community lying just to the south of Sunrise, across I-75. Because its population is a bit more affluent, Bonaventure's tax base would be a boon for Sunrise. But Bonaventure residents would have to cast votes in favor of annexation. To that end, All Service paid $150,000, by far the largest contribution to the political-action committee that blanketed Bonaventure with mailers and television commercials. It didn't matter; Bonaventure voted overwhelmingly to join Weston, whose topnotch schools, elegant spas, and fine dining proved more persuasive than any ad campaign.

Around the same time, Sunrise was among a pack of cities lusting after the Florida Panthers' new stadium. Again, Sunrise could count on the generosity of All Service, which paid thousands for swanky banquets feting Panther executives like H. Wayne Huizenga, whose brother-in-law Harris "Whit" Hudson owned All Service, before it became part of Republic Services in 1998.

For $7,800, the company hired a polling firm to study the preferences of Broward County voters on the stadium location, and lo and behold, the firm reported a preference for Sunrise. This time, Sunrise won the derby, and construction began on BankAtlantic Center in July 1996.

All the while, All Service not only kept a contract unthreatened by outside bids but reportedly enjoyed the privilege of meeting in private with City Manager Salerno to hammer out the contract's details. No interference from the public, nor from an independent consultant, who for a nominal fee might have ensured that the city was getting a good deal. From 1993 to 1996, the trash rates increased by 20 percent, but Salerno emerged from the August 1996 negotiations boasting to the Sun-Sentinel that by playing hardball, he'd cut the trash-collection charges by an average of $4 per single-family residence, to around $18. "It's a major loss of revenue for All Service," lamented Harold "Butch" Carter, then the company's vice president.

But slowly, stealthily, the garbage rates climbed back to their previous heights and beyond, until by 2004 they were $23.21, a figure higher than in most other South Florida cities.

As if the company and the city weren't already chummy enough, All Service's owner, Republic Services, a trash-hauling conglomerate with annual revenue of near $3 billion, will move its headquarters next month from Fort Lauderdale to Sunrise.

All Service and its parent company are never more beneficent than during campaign season, at least if public records are any indication.

Of course, there's nothing especially unseemly about All Service's being listed on the treasurers' reports for the 2004-05 campaign (the most recent one in Sunrise) as having donated $500, the maximum amount under Florida law, to both Mayor Feren and Commissioner Scuotto.

But that amount is only the visible tip of an iceberg. One must investigate the other names on the forms to get a full appreciation of the scope of All Service's lobbying efforts in Sunrise. To Scuotto's 2004-05 campaign, Robert Hely, David Katz, and Ralph Trapani made individual contributions totaling $1,250. All three were at the time employed by Republic Services.

Other companies linked through Republic Services to All Service also displayed uncommon generosity: Envirocycle, Eastern Waste Systems, and Southland Waste contributed $500 apiece to Scuotto. Howard Kusnick, Andrew DiBattista, and Ericks Consultants — all lobbyists who have worked for All Service — each gave $500 as well. Even Sky Industries and Superior Wash, companies that provide the truck parts and perform cleaning services, respectively, for All Service trucks, ponied up $500 apiece for Scuotto.

That's $5,750, and sources close to Sunrise government say there's more.

A look at Feren's 2004-05 campaign reports shows donations from many of the same firms — Sky Industries, Superior Wash, Southland Waste — and many of the same lobbyists — Ericks Consulting, Howard Kusnick, Robert Hely, Andrew DiBattista. Another lobbyist with past connections to Republic Service, Walter Gallant, gave $500 individually, then $500 more through Specialties by Gallant Graphics, the firm that All Service pays for printing. Another donation came from Mitch Ceasar, president of the Broward County Democratic Committee, who is also an All Service lobbyist.

Add another $500 courtesy of Charles Dean, who runs a debris-removal company that in 2005 was brought in by All Service to assist in the post-Wilma cleanup.

"Bundling," or the practice of collecting donations for a candidate among one's professional associates, is legal, but since it exploits a loophole in campaign finance laws, the bundlers rarely admit to it.

Will Flower, Republic Services vice president for communications, denies a connection between these donations and All Service. "Lobbyists have many different clients," Flower says. "They make those donations, and they don't get reimbursed for campaign contributions that they make."

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