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

All the while that All Service dangled carrots before Alu's colleagues, she was learning firsthand with what force the company can swing the stick.

In late June 2005, several months after telling All Service lobbyist Howard Kusnick that she was going to make a motion that All Service's contract with Sunrise be put out to bid, Alu had a series of harrowing encounters. It started with a gold Ford Taurus that one afternoon followed so closely to Alu's back bumper that she was finally forced to pull over and, in a panic, call police.

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.

She received phone calls from a man who wouldn't identify himself and hurled obscenities, like "bitch" and "fucking cunt." Then a black SUV appeared, driving slowly past Alu's home while her daughter played in the front yard.

She also learned of an ethics complaint filed against her with the state, alleging that she received thousands of dollars in free legal services from her divorce attorney, gifts that she was ethically bound to have disclosed. Copies of the complaint were mailed anonymously to the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel. The Florida Commission on Ethics found no violations.

Out of respect for Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine statutes, Alu did not contact fellow commissioners about the harassment. But she was in almost constant communication with the Sunrise Police Department and with City Manager Salerno, among other city staff, and given the speed with which gossip travels through City Hall, Alu assumes that her fellow Sunrise commissioners would have heard secondhand about All Service's tactics. Those commissioners, of course, could have put pressure on the company to rein in its strong-arm tactics.

Alu, whose ex-husband had been a Plantation police officer, still had friends on the force, and those officers took turns parking in her driveway, where they'd write their reports. She'd wake in the morning to find their business cards tucked between her front doors, a gesture that helped her sleep, she says.

In addition, the media came to Alu's rescue. The packet of incriminating documents sent to the Sun-Sentinel landed at the desk of former political columnist Buddy Nevins, who had first met Alu through her advocacy of the Alu-O'Hara Public Safety Officers Health Benefits Act in the mid-'90s. To Nevins, Alu's story had more credibility than the story told by the anonymous packet.

By requesting the original complaint, Nevins found that the fax stamp said "All Service." Alu, who was in law school at the time, did her own sleuthing, and since she knew that the packet also contained files from her divorce, she asked the clerk of the court to provide her with the names of people who had requested access to those files. This turned up only one name: that of Kusnick, the All Service lobbyist.

For all its personal cost, Alu's opening the contract to competition succeeded in All Service's submitting a bid of $15.6 million, $1 million lower than its previous contract with Sunrise and $3 million cheaper on an annual basis than the only other competing bid, by Waste Management. So for all the discord, All Service still won the Sunrise contract, earning even Alu's grudging vote.

"My job as a commissioner is to make legislative decisions that are in the best interest of the residents, regardless of my personal feelings," Alu wrote in an e-mail to New Times. "All Service submitted the best bid, so I voted to award them the contract."

Since being harassed by the company's operatives, Alu had a meeting with Republic Services CEO James O'Connor, who apologized for All Service's behavior and described an internal investigation that coincided with the departures of All Service executive David Katz, lobbyists Vinnie Grande and Howard Kusnick, and area President John Ferguson.

All Service spokesman Flower would say only that the company's investigation led to "personnel changes," not necessarily firings. Flower declined to share the company's investigation with New Times or to be more specific about its findings.

In mid-November, Flower told New Times that Republic Services "demand(s) the highest ethical behavior" from its lobbyists, and judging by Flower's remarks nearly a year ago in an article by Nevins, that excluded Kusnick. "We are not making any commitment" to use Kusnick in the future, Flower said.

But Kusnick, the lobbyist who played a role in the intimidation tactics against Alu, remains on the company payroll. Kusnick did not return calls seeking comment.

Alu says that O'Connor, of Republic Service, told her that just before Ferguson was forced out of the company, he inked Kusnick to a new contract. She doesn't know whether to believe it. "It was their money that paid for the attacks on me — that's hard to swallow," Alu says. "But I feel in my heart that they've rectified things. One bad employee" — presumably she means Kusnick — "does not ruin a whole company."

Despite Kusnick's continued presence, it appears that since Ferguson's departure, All Service has cleaned up its act. Alu even says that her garbage men — who occupy a low place within the company hierarchy — are doting enough to bring her trash cans all the way back to her garage, a service her neighbors don't receive and that seems to her a weekly show of remorse. A town tipped off its balance, as Sunrise was a year ago, sways for a while before finding equilibrium, not necessarily in the same place as it had been before. The city's new configuration of power won't be settled, perhaps, until after the municipal elections on March 13, 2007, when two commissioners face reelection.

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