Stand up for taxpayers or maximize profits for shareholders?

As predicted, the August 25, 2022, Village Council meeting was one of the worst displays of mismanagement we have witnessed, and that’s saying something.

Two hours, nearly half of the meeting, of mental gymnastics and outward aggression – not to solve a problem vexing our town, not to 

adequately address pay increases for the town’s employees, but to ensure a Fortune 250 corporation, Waste Management, left satisfied.

Quick reminder: Our garbage is collected by Waste Management – a $72.4 billion corporation, whose “primary objective is to maximize stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions within which it operates” according to their website. Editor’s Note: The ICA has no issue with the service they provide.

The contract they have with the Village allows for an annual 3% increase. In black and white, it states: “Notwithstanding the foregoing, the annual CPI (consumer price index) adjustment shall not exceed an increase or decrease of more than three (3) percent.”

However, in recent months, they have been signaling a request for an increase of something between 17 and 20 percent for residential collection, as well as an extension to their December 2023 contract expiration. And from the outset, only one Councilman, Henry Rosenthal, has publicly stated he’d only support the 3% they are entitled to, no more. 

First, lets set the stage.

As luck would have it, Henry was tasked with running the Council meeting. Pete Bacheler was excused from the meeting for personal reasons, and as Henry serves as the Vice Mayor, the gavel fell to him.

It has become commonplace for three or four Councilmen to gang up on Henry during debates on issues. It is tough to watch Henry endure the verbal blows as he advocates for the best interests of the residents and taxpayers on matters of importance, like the ill-conceived pedestrian bridge, continued frustration regarding the Fills, and high-priced, double-dipping lobbyists. Meeting after meeting, he remains the only one with his finger on the pulse of the community and completely devoid of ego-based behavior and decisions.

With the gavel in hand, though, Henry would be able to control the tenor of the meeting. Pete was audibly connected to the meeting, but it had earlier been decided he would not be voting on items that evening.

From the outset, it was clear David Webb’s agenda was to make Waste Management happy. His commentary was simultaneously insulting to the residents and wrong in assumptions and conclusions. Echoing David’s remarks, Mark Gregg was right by his side.

Henry uses the gavel.

Henry was methodical as he made the case for no increase in the rates beyond the 3% allowed by the contract. Instead of letting Henry finish, David cut him off and made a procedural maneuver that would end the debate. Mark Gregg seconded the motion.

Now, with only four Councilmen present and voting, David is counting his votes and so is the Clerk. Calling the question, and certain he would win the vote, he clearly did not expect NO to come out of Buddy Pinder’s mouth. In fact, when he hears NO, David’s body language gives him away – with his head literally dropping in defeat. What just happened? David could always count on Buddy’s vote, wrongheaded as the instances are, but not that night.

What happens in a tie?

A 2-2 tie means the motion fails. David loses the vote. Keep in mind, we aren’t really talking about votes, we’re talking about imposing more costs onto the taxpayers of Islamorada. 

It was apparent to those watching that Henry was going to win the day (meaning, the taxpayers would win the day). Refusing to let it go, though, David Webb quickly calls for and is granted a 5-minute recess.

What follows will be up to authorities to decide. 

With a recess called, three Councilmen, the village manager, and the village attorney quickly make their way to the private room behind the dais. Henry stays seated (heck, it’s only a 5-minute break, right?). A few minutes go by and the Village’s camera recording the meeting is turned off. So, those at home can’t see what ensues, but those in attendance can.

The next scene, captured on video, in photos, and by witnesses, has David approaching Henry in a rather aggressive manner, making remarks no one could quite make out. Henry gets up out of his seat, walking toward the members of the public. Following closely, now speaking loud enough for the public to hear, is David Webb.

In what could be a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, David Webb begins to browbeat Henry on the issue at hand – an increase in rates for Waste Management.

Henry again walks away, back to his seat on the dais. And again, David follows. A member of the public warns for a second time, “so much for the Sunshine Law,” yet David Webb persists.

Five minutes turns into 24.

When the Council returned to their seats, there was a bit of a technical delay. Much to the surprise of Henry and members of the public, the next scene is Pete’s face from a hospital bed. Village Attorney John Quick was swift to rule that Pete was legally allowed to vote on the issue even though he had not been present for the discussion. 

That’s odd. It was Pete who last year declared, “If a council member was going to participate remotely, the Council must be able to see their face and be able to ensure no other person was next to them influencing their decision-making process.” Well, that didn’t happen. 

David Webb, with Mark Gregg in tow, was not going to lose his fight to give Waste Management a 10% rate increase. 

So, they figured out a way to get a third vote – Pete Bacheler, in a hospital gown, from a hospital bed casting a deciding vote. David Webb calls the question, again, Mark Gregg seconds it, Pete votes yes, and Waste Management wins in a 3-2 vote. 

In the end, Henry didn’t lose – the villagers did.

As one member of the public remarked during public comment, “I don’t know why we even negotiate contracts. We never stick with them. We do whatever outside parties want, always at the expense of the residents. Not all of us are wealthy. It’s time for you to remember residents are struggling.”

If Waste Management’s stated purpose on their own website WM Corporate Profile is to maximize profits for shareholders, is it too much to ask that our own Village Council do the same for all of us?

Editors Note: As has been the case from the outset for the ICA, our commentary is meant to be productive and not personal. We do appreciate the fact it may feel personal to those we highlight in our commentary; however, these individuals are serving in a public role. It is only about their role as elected or appointed officials, along with the decisions they make or fail to make, that we speak to. If we disapprove or approve of behavior, it should not be construed as having a political purpose. Of course, this is difficult as it is in their role as elected officials that we scrutinize. Such is the nature of the work. 

As one woman remarked during public comment, “I don't know why we even negotiate contracts. We never stick with them. We do whatever outside parties want, always at the expense of the residents. Not all of us are wealthy. It’s time for you to remember residents are struggling.”