By Paul Gable
Horry County Council received faulty information about the HCSWA dealings with Charleston County during its regular meeting last week.
I do not believe the intent was to provide false information. Rather, I believe it was the result of information being provided sparingly when it should have been discussed openly and shared from a much earlier date.
Several council members were very upset about being asked to quickly consider a budget amendment for the HCSWA budget after a contract was signed and Charleston County trash was already making its way to Horry County.
Council member Johnny Vaught asked when the first contact was made between Charleston County and the HCSWA board. Authority board chairman Lance Thompson said HCSWA staff was first contacted May 28, 2015.
Vaught asked when the HCSWA board became involved in the contract decision. Thompson said a couple weeks later the board was notified, then, at a board meeting the board voted to allow staff to negotiate.
Vaught said, “Essentially negotiations had not begun until you (HCSWA board) were contacted and you guys voted to go ahead.” Thompson agreed that was correct.
Council member Gary Loftus stated he understood Sonoco, the company that was running the Charleston County material recycling facility, had given notice in December 2014 that it was considering terminating its contract with Charleston County.
A representative from Sonoco said the company informed Charleston County that it was unable to operate the Charleston County MRF economically and notified the county it would cease operations July 31, 2015 under the termination clause. In addition, Sonoco took the decision because of the limited progress made toward Charleston County’s commitment to build a new, more efficient MRF.
Here are facts I have been able to gather from sources familiar with the Charleston County part of the negotiations as well as HCSWA minutes from board meetings.
According to those sources, a consultant for Charleston County first contacted the HCSWA “maybe as early as April.” By early June, the consultant notified HCSWA staff Charleston County wanted to begin formal negotiations on a contract to ship Charleston County recyclables to the HCSWA material recycling facililty. In mid-June, Charleston County officials were negotiating as well as their consultant.
At an HCSWA board meeting June 30, 2015, Mike Bessant, HCSWA assistant executive director, told the board he had been contacted by several out of county recycling companies about processing recyclables from their counties. Bessant said he wanted to make the board aware of a possible increase in tonnage at the MRF. No specifics as to which counties were given.
It wasn’t until a July 21, 2015 special board meeting that the full HCSWA board was formally given details about the Charleston County proposal. Bessant told the board he was contacted by Charleston County 30-35 days ago (mid-June 2015) about the possibility of processing that county’s recyclables at the HCSWA MRF.
Questioned when notice had been given to Charleston County by Sonoco that their contract was being terminated, Bessant said it was a 90 day notice.
The contract between Charleston County and Sonoco ended July 31, 2015 meaning formal notice was given the end of April 2015. This gives credence to the Charleston County sources statement that the Charleston County consultant had first contacted the HCSWA in April.
At the end of the special meeting, the HCSWA board voted to authorize executive director Danny Knight to enter into an agreement with Charleston County to accept out-of-county recyclables.
Horry County government officials were not informed about a possible contract taking out-of-county recyclables until July 28, 2015. The officials notified at a short briefing by Bessant were council chairman Mark Lazarus, administrator Chris Eldridge, attorney Arrigo Carotti and finance director Justin Powell.
The county administration committee approved the concept of entering into the contract with some very specific conditions on July 30, 2015.
The HCSWA board formally approved the contract on July 31, 2015, after having changed at least one of the conditions set forth by the administration committee. Knight signed the contract that day and forwarded it to Charleston County for signature.
However, the HCSWA had already begun receiving “test” loads of recyclables during the prior week.
Horry County Council got its first look at the contract August 18, 2015 and approved first reading of a budget amendment ordinance required for the contract to be accepted by the HCSWA. The HCSWA began receiving recyclable loads pursuant to the contract August 3, 2015.
Council defeated second reading of the budget amendment ordinance at its September 1, 2015 regular meeting.
Lazarus told Knight before the September 1st vote, in the future we (council) need to know way in advance (when an issue like this comes up.) Lazarus said short notice with a gun essentially held to the head of council causes too much pressure and dissension.
As you can see, talks about bringing Charleston County recyclables to Horry County began well before May 28, 2015 and negotiations about a contract began at least by mid-June if not in early June between Charleston County and the HCSWA. Certainly they were ongoing well before the HCSWA staff gave authority to Knight during the July 21, 2015 special meeting.
Why the HCSWA staff waited so long to inform its board and Horry County Council is unknown. It appears the HCSWA board and the county should have been informed as early as May, certainly by early June, that Charleston County was ready to start formal talks.
If this had been done, it is probable that a budget amendment could have been successfully passed by Horry County Council thereby eliminating the embarrassing situation the HCSWA now finds itself in.
I have spoken to Lance Thompson several times about the contract and the process that was followed to inform the HCSWA board and county council. I believe Thompson to be a man of honesty and integrity. I do not believe he intentionally gave false information to county council at the September 1, 2015 meeting.
I believe he was the victim of faulty information about when contacts were made, when negotiations began and why the process was so rushed at the end.