Trash pickup in Macon was sabotaged, commissioner says. Mayor disagrees

A Macon-Bibb County commissioner says he believes a department director sabotaged garbage and debris pick up to save his department from privatization but that director later reversed course.

Commissioner Al Tillman made the allegations Thursday based on conversations he said he had with several employees. Tillman said the employees told him Solid Waste Director Kevin Barkley told them in February to stop assisting Advanced Disposal with waste collection. He also placed blame on the mayor for problems with trash pickup.

Both Mayor Robert Reichert and an Advanced Disposal official dispute those claims.

Tillman said he began his own investigation in part because of the amount of complaints he’s received from residents upset about waste and debris collection this year.

“Some people are confused as to who is at fault. Solid Waste or Advanced?,” Tillman said. “Based on what I know, this was done to hurt their (Advanced Disposal’s) efforts for whatever reason.

“I think ultimately in the end you don’t mess with people’s trash,” Tillman said.

Tillman’s news conference comes as county commissioners could soon vote whether to turn over more solid waste collections to Advanced Disposal.

In 2016, Advanced Disposal began providing weekly garbage and some yard waste collections for Macon-Bibb. The county’s Solid Waste staff picked up recycling, excess yard debris and bulkier items.

Conversations about privatization of solid waste are not new for Macon-Bibb leaders, Reichert said in a statement, which was also made on the behalf of Barkley.

The goal is to find the best way to “provide more effective services” as conversations about privatization of solid waste have ramped up in recent months. The public deserves to have this matter resolved, and they deserve a smooth delivery of garbage, recycling and yard waste collection, the statement said.

“The limbo which our department and ADS have existed these past few months has further impacted the ability to provide services since neither can hire people nor buy equipment without knowing what services they are to deliver,” the mayor’s statement said.

“At no time do we believe our department has purposely provided poor service. Rather, they have — as all of our department have — been operating with reduced budgets, fewer people, and less and older equipment.”

Barkley has a strong reputation in his profession and has worked closely with Advanced the last couple of years, Advanced Disposal District Manager Jarod Lovett said.

Lovett said over the last 12 months he has met with some of the commissioners to discuss the options for the future of waste collections.

The question is whether the County Commission plans to provide enough financial resources for solid waste collection. Advanced has worked to help out the county whenever it can, Lovett said.

The majority of the complaints about waste pickup in recent months has been about yard debris, according to the county.

“When we fill up our trucks with toys or boxes or a small chair on the side of the road, there’s not enough (room) for the yard waste,” Lovett said. “This is purely the cost of doing business versus the services (commissioners) desire.”

Tillman said his investigation also found that Barkley later reversed course and now advocates for Advanced to take over all of garbage, debris and recycling collections at the behest of Reichert’s administration.

Tillman presented a chronological timeline outlining some of the behind-the scenes discussion revolving around solid waste dating back to when annual billing was passed last fall. (Quarterly billing will return in 2019.)

The document was signed by 19 Solid Waste employees, whose signatures were blacked out to protect their identities, Tillman said.

Tillman said he hopes commissioners will review what his investigation found before deciding whether to make changes to waste collection services.

“What I wanted to do is be transparent, and at least say ‘If we’re going to make a decision to go a different direction ... the public needed to know, the commission needed to know what happened to at least to make a sound and informed decision,” Tillman said.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas said she doesn’t understand why there is a rush for some to approve giving Advanced more money. There needs to be more talks about what’s best for the services residents receive.

“I think we start with (an) internal audit to see if we got our money’s worth, and if that says the contract was fulfilled ... then we would feel comfortable in moving forward with additional services that Advanced would be providing to us and also deal with the issues of the employees, she said.