INVESTIGATES: Issues found in two of the city of Jacksonville’s waste contracts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax found glaring holes in two of the city’s three contracts with its haulers. Those holes played a big part in the suspension of curbside recycling and the many missed pick-ups.

Had the city included certain terms in those two contracts, experts and contract attorneys say it would have given Jacksonville more control over its haulers’ hiring practices. Because those clauses weren’t included, the city didn’t have the power to push those contractors when it really mattered.

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Beyond the big truck and bins, it’s the people that make the collection of solid waste possible. For more than six months, there weren’t enough people to do the job. According to the city’s chief administrative officer, the suspension of curbside recycling was the direct result of labor woes.

In a one-on-one interview with Hughes, Action News Jax investigator Emily Turner asked him, “What’s the problem with hiring these people? Why, if you are putting the pressure on them, as you say, why are they not getting the people in these jobs? "

Hughes’ referred us to the contractors, and said, ”my contract doesn’t allow me as the administrator of the city to tell a private contractor what he has to do to hire people.”

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And that, right there, is the problem. Action News Jax found the city’s contracts with two of its haulers don’t have the teeth to ensure workforce stability, leaving it without the necessary levers to ensure the job that was laid out in those contracts was done.

Shar Habibi works for In The Public Interest, a nonprofit research and policy organization that studies public goods and services. In its study of best practices for contracting waste removal, she reviewed Jacksonville’s contracts along with those of nine other cities.

Habibi says, “At the heart of waste pickup is the workforce and so ensuring the contract has very specific provisions around the workforce is really important.”

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The two contracts in question are the one for Advanced Disposal — now owned by Waste Management and Waste Pro. Habibi’s findings are broken into four categories: control, good management, workforce stability, and environmental and community issues. They aim to ensure strong contract language.

“It allows the city to hold the contractor accountable.” Habibi says, “it’s important because you want the city to have levers to be able to force the contractor to be able to do what they need to do in order to provide the service.”

But she says the city’s two contracts only have one of the seven provisions for workforce stability: a nondiscrimination clause. Things like staffing levels and living wage requirements are missing. She says, “including these types of provisions really ensures the city contains control over the service and mitigates the risks of these types of service.”

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Having that control, Habibi says, would have gone a long way toward preventing the problems leading to missed pick ups, something the city says it learned the hard way.

When investigator Emily Turner asked Hughes, “Is the contract not strong enough?” Hughes replied, “I think in light of what we’ve learned, there are, there are lessons in the contracting process that when given the opportunity, I think if you look at, um, how we interacted and ended up with Meridian, I think you see, um, some contemplation of ways to make the contracts better.”

These two contracts end next year. They were negotiated by the Alvin Brown administration.