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April 17, 2007 > Brand new offices, same old inept management

Brand new offices, same old inept management

By Steve Warga

In the middle of its new concrete, cavernous conference room on Webster Street in Oakland, ACWMA senior managers and the oversight board convened their regular, monthly meeting on Wednesday, March 28. Executive Director Karen Smith, among others, regaled the board and a handful of observers with glowing descriptions of the latest "green technology" features of the new offices. Consistent with the name "Stopwaste.org," the two-story facility boasts numerous advanced, energy-saving and reduction tricks.

Sad to say, by the end of the meeting, neither the board nor staff produced one, single useful idea or decision toward the authority's single-most important task: recycling 85 percent of Alameda County garbage by 2010. It's what voters approved in 2000 with passage of Measure D; it's what all concerned fret over with great shows of concern; and it's the one thing that simply is not happening, despite the levy of millions of dollars of taxes on each and every pound of garbage and waste produced in the county.

Regular readers of TCV know well the sad litany of poor decisions by senior ACWMA managers since the Measure D mandate of turning at least 85 percent of dumped waste back into reusable materials, like compost. Smith and her immediate deputy, Senior Project Manager Brian Mathews have directed the waste of millions of tax-payer dollars into one ill-advised scheme after another. They also continue paying millions of tax-payer dollars to a San Francisco law firm that counsels rejection its own work product.

Oversight of these well-paid managers rests with a board of directors comprised of appointed representatives from each municipality and sanitary district in Alameda County. These individuals have sworn to represent the best interests of their various jurisdictions yet many display a sort of "Alice in Wonderland" mentality toward the staff they supposedly direct. For months now, staff reports have consisted of nothing more substantial than vague requests for direction from the board. Upon hearing absolutely nothing in the way of progress or vision, a majority of board members smile, nod their heads in pleasant agreement and proceed to effusively praise staff efforts.

One voice in the wilderness, Laython Landis of Oro Loma Sanitary District, noted recently that ACWMA's fine new offices cost in the neighborhood of $428 per square feet to refurbish an existing building. That's some expensive neighborhood. Informed observers suggest that a brand new building could have been constructed for less. And given the utter lack of production from the existing staff, why spend all that money on new offices?

So it goes, however, at Stopwaste.org. In recent months, they've received a number of proposals from various existing businesses eager to begin receiving and recycling county waste shipments. Some entities asked for ACWMA investment, others said, "We don't want your money, we want your product."

So far, senior staff can't get around to any negotiations. They collected over $17 million last year from taxpayer pockets. They're sitting on $44 million in assets, most of it in cash. And they recently raised the per-ton fee levies. Yet, all they've done with that hoard of public wealth is waste it on inept and ill-fated schemes while paying way too much for a fine new office building. That's how Stopwaste.org manages county waste.

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