Garbage haulers tore into a new set of Solid Waste Authority standards that would require them to share future contracts with firms owned by women and minorities and form a joint venture with them to service a specific portion of the county.
Unveiled publicly for the first time Wednesday, the new standards would require haulers bidding to collect garbage and recycling to share 20 percent of their contracts — 10 percent with small businesses and another 10 percent with firms owned by women and minorities. The new standards are part of a plan being put in place before the authority awards a series of hauling contracts in February worth a combined $450 million.
Commissioners, sitting as the authority’s governing board, got an earful from the county’s haulers, who said key aspects of the proposed plan are unworkable because there aren’t enough women- and minority-owned firms that have gone through the county’s certification process.
“The 20 percent, you just heard from your consultant that you have zero availability,” said Neil Schiller, an attorney representing Waste Management, the largest garbage hauler in the country. “How are we supposed to find firms when there aren’t any?”
Schiller and representatives of other haulers working in the county also objected to the requirement that haulers form a joint venture with firms owned by women or minorities to provide service to a section of the county that includes upscale communities such as Bellagio, The Fountains, Wycliffe and Countryside Estates.
“We cannot take the liability of another company under our name,” said Chris Schulle, division manager for Waste Pro. “A joint venture is just something we’re not going to entertain.”
Joanne Stanley, municipal services manager for Republic Services, said: “Our company just doesn’t do that.”
The plan grew out of a recent study that found firms owned by women and minorities got far fewer and less lucrative contracts from the authority than their presence in the marketplace suggested they should have received.
Consultant Franklin Lee, a Maryland regulatory compliance attorney, found the study’s methodology to be sound and recommended race- and gender-specific targets to address the contracting disparities.
Minority and female business owners, who said they have long felt shut out of contract opportunities, pointed to the study as validation of their claims. They argued that gender- and race-conscious targets would draw more women- and minority-owned businesses.
During a series of tense meetings, they pressed commissioners to acknowledge the disparities and embrace Lee’s recommendations.
The Florida East Coast Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, meanwhile, questioned the validity of the study and said it was too flawed to serve as the basis for race- and gender-specific programs that could withstand legal challenge.
AGC and other large business representatives said the problem is not that discrimination has blocked contract opportunities for women and minority business owners; it’s that there weren’t enough firms owned by women and minorities under the authority’s old program.
Commissioners voted in June to move forward with Lee’s recommendations. Wednesday’s meeting presented the first glimpse into how race- and gender-specific goals could impact requirements for firms hoping to get one or more of the lucrative hauling contracts.
Those hauling contracts are expected to be issued in February.
Authority officials will finalize the bid specifications and present them to commissioners when they meet on Aug. 29. Firms will officially be invited to bid in September, and bids will be due by early December.
County Mayor Melissa McKinlay said she’s concerned about any additional costs taxpayers will have to pay because of the plan.
“I can’t support moving forward with this until I know how this will impact my constituents financially,” she said.
Tina White, a black small business owner and lobbyist who represents a pair of firms expected to bid for the hauling work, urged commissioners not to be swayed by the pleadings of the current haulers.
“The current haulers had opportunities to develop relationships with (firms owned by women and minorities),” she said. “They chose not to.”
Before expanding it to include race- and gender-specific targets, the authority had a program that focused on helping small businesses.
White said she remembers that haulers complained about having to meet small business targets.
“Now, they’re bragging that they’re exceeding them,” she said, indicating the same is likely to occur if the authority sticks with the gender and race targets.