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    To clear air, Tarpon Springs seeks garbage bids

    After fliers claim a renewal with Waste Management is illegal, city officials say they want to avoid any hint of impropriety.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- City officials say going out for garbage-hauling bids now might end up costing residents and businesses more money, but they decided Tuesday night to seek bids anyway.

    The reason: a flier containing false information that was anonymously, and maybe illegally, put on many mailboxes around town last weekend. City officials had planned to renew a $1.98-million annual contract with Waste Management, but the flier incorrectly claimed the renewal would be illegal.

    City commissioners concluded that the fliers had muddied the issue enough that if they did not go out for bids now, questions might linger.

    "A lot of this -- that's what it is, pure garbage," City Commissioner David Archie said at a meeting Tuesday night.

    The flier accused the city of violating its charter by not going to bid on a trash-hauling contract. The city later discovered that the flier came from Liberty Waste and Recycling of Tampa, which wanted to submit a bid for the waste-hauling contract.

    City Manager Ellen Posivach said the Police Department is looking into the posting of the fliers on mailboxes, which is not allowed under federal postal laws.

    City Attorney John Hubbard pointed out that the city is not required to go to bid on a contract extension, which is what had been proposed at a previous meeting. But because of the flier, commissioners decided Tuesday night to go out to bid and not immediately renew the contract with Waste Management.

    Previously, commissioners had considered renewing the Waste Management contract under an agreement that the company would not raise prices. That would mean the city would continue paying the same amount as when the contract began five years ago. Commissioners pointed out that there is no guarantee prices will not increase by going out to bid.

    Commissioners previously had talked about having the city run the trash pickup service, but city staffers said that would cost too much. After raising some concerns with Waste Management, commissioners said, the company worked hard to resolve problems and listen to residents' complaints.

    One thing became clear during the Tuesday night meeting: Commissioners are not inclined to sign a contract with Liberty Waste and Recycling, no matter what the company bids. Commissioners said they were shocked by the content of the fliers and the way they were distributed.

    "I would like to know where they got their information," Commissioner Jim Archer said. "Is the party here from Liberty Waste? Can you tell me where you got the information?"

    Kim Egelseer, a district vice president for the company, went to the podium and said he took "full and complete" responsibility for the fliers. But he defended his company for what he described as an effort to inform the public.

    "I think the intent of the ordinance is what I was trying to get at. I apologize sincerely if you felt I was providing information that was misleading," he said. "Certainly my intent was to inform people and make them aware."

    City Manager Posivach pointed out that the company was informing people with incorrect statements.

    "I was really, quite frankly, appalled -- not only by the content but also the way it was distributed," Posivach said. "I've been in this business almost 26 years . . . and I've never seen anything like this."

    Commissioner Beverley Billiris said she called Liberty on Monday after residents told her the anonymous flier had come from that company. She spoke with Egelseer, who at first denied any knowledge of the flier, she said.

    "I asked him point-blank, 'Was your company responsible for this flier?' " Billiris said.

    He said no. Billiris later saw a news release that Liberty sent to the St. Petersburg Times, and the content was identical to that of the flier. The difference with the news release was that it had Liberty's letterhead and Egelseer's name at the top.

    Egelseer later said his company produced the fliers, but he blamed the distribution on "overzealous employees."

    Billiris was not pleased. "I would never want to support any company that would do business in my community in this manner," she said.

    Several residents said they were disappointed that the flier had forced commissioners not to accept the renewed contract with Waste Management.

    "The unfortunate thing is this has served its purpose," attorney Mike Kouskoutis said, holding a copy of the flier.

    - Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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