Tillman suggests possible conspiracy at Macon-Bibb landfill

jgaines@macon.comFebruary 14, 2014 

In the wake of the Macon-Bibb County landfill’s repeated failure of state inspection, Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Al Tillman suggested Friday that someone may be setting up Public Works Director Richard Powell for failure.

“I’m just saying, ‘What if?’” Tillman said. “What if somebody was making it look bad because of who he is?”

He said he wants to discuss the subject in the commission’s Facilities & Engineering Committee, of which he is the chairman.

Asked about the allegation, Powell responded by email.

“This is the first that I have heard this,” he said. “I have not spoken with Commissioner Al Tillman about the landfill since he has been elected.”

Mayor Robert Reichert said he “adamantly denies” involvement in anything resembling Tillman’s suggestion.

“He hasn’t said anything like that to me, and there certainly is no effort from my office or from the county manager’s office to ‘set him up for failure,’” Reichert said. “In fact what we’ve tried to do is provide (Powell) with support and resources to make the changes that he felt for necessary to keep the landfill in compliance.”

County Manager Dale Walker said he couldn’t talk in detail about personnel issues and said commissioners shouldn’t either. He also quickly rejected Tillman’s speculation.

“Those are false allegations,” Walker said. “That kind of stuff is ridiculous.”

On the one recent occasion when the landfill passed inspection, Tillman said, he believes that Powell’s job was “terminated or under appeal.”

In October 2011, the state fined the city $35,000 after a series of failed inspections. Less than four months later Reichert fired Powell, charging him with incompetence.

But Powell appealed his firing to the Macon City Council, and after an absence of nearly nine months he was reinstated in October 2012. The council voted 10-4 to reinstate him, a move that required at least 10 of the 15 votes on the council.

A few weeks later, for the first time in several years, the landfill passed inspection with a score of 95. A passing score is 75.

But it has failed several inspections since then, mostly due to chronic problems with erosion control and exposed garbage. Under the new consolidated government, department heads fired by the mayor have no right of appeal.

Tillman said he doesn’t think Powell does hands-on work at the landfill himself, and he wonders if the same subordinates were there during the entire time the landfill both passed and failed inspection.

The government may need to “consider getting rid of the folks around him” if that’s the case, Tillman said.

Powell himself has the authority to do that, Reichert said.

“If he’s being set up for failure by people within his department, (Powell) ought to get rid of them,” Reichert said.

In the most recent state inspection, on Jan. 23, the landfill received a score of 65. Walker has said he expects to see major changes at the landfill soon, since the recent failure may well result in another state fine.

Public Affairs Director Chris Floore said the landfill report was completed by state Environmental Protection Division officials, not the Macon-Bibb government. Floore also said that in the wake of the latest report, Assistant County Manager Steve Layson has been assigned to investigate why the landfill has suffered the same problems repeatedly.

As part of the Macon-Bibb County consolidation, more than a dozen department heads are having to compete anew for their jobs, including Powell. Meanwhile, a new department concentrating on the landfill and waste issues is to be split off from Public Works with a director of its own.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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