[StBernard] St. Bernard Council blocks comment on SDT
westley at da-parish.com
Wed Feb 4 18:13:39 EST 2009
St. Bernard Council blocks comment on SDT
by Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday February 04, 2009, 9:54 AM
After lengthy verbal sparring Tuesday night between several St. Bernard
Parish councilmen and Parish President Craig Taffaro over the December
settlement of a billing dispute with SDT Waste & Debris Services, the
council voted to cease all public statements about SDT until all outstanding
concerns are resolved.
The resolution applies to the council and Taffaro. Several council members
wrote a pointed news release over the weekend after Taffaro appeared in a
WWL-TV report casting doubt on the findings of auditor Harold Asher, who was
hired by SDT and the parish government to review how much the parish was
billed for garbage disposed at a local landfill.
Parish officials were concerned that SDT might be diverting garbage disposal
fees from other parishes and private contracts onto St. Bernard's account at
the River Birch landfill. Asher's report concluded that SDT owed nothing to
the parish, and that it was possible that St. Bernard would owe SDT $1.7
million because of the cost of hauling the garbage to the landfill.
Councilman Wayne Landry asked Taffaro where things stood on the agreement,
which he said he thought was finalized in December after Asher's report.
Landry, Taffaro and SDT owner Sidney Torres IV signed a joint news release
outlining a settlement, but Taffaro said he has not signed a "resolution
document" that formalizes the agreement.
"Certainly I wasn't ignoring or not intending to execute the agreement, but
there were some questions that I felt needed to be answered or at least
posed in order to make sure that the responsible agreement was met," Taffaro
said at the meeting.
In a Jan. 23 letter to SDT, Taffaro outlined concerns about 2,600 addresses
that had multiple garbage cans, noting that the discovery could put Asher's
findings into question.
Landry noted that Asher pointed out the shortfalls of the garbage data when
he wrote the report in December, saying that a full-blown audit could have
taken six months and more than $250,000.
Councilman George Cavignac, who introduced the measure to suspend further
public comment, said several councilmen were concerned after receiving calls
from Asher's attorney following the television news report.
"No matter what the intent was of the statement, it obviously upset the
hired forensic auditor as evidenced by the quick phone call from his hired
attorney," Cavignac said after the meeting.
He said the halt on public statements is meant to protect the council and
parish government from litigation, not to squelch the flow of information to
Torres and Taffaro met earlier Tuesday to discuss the issue of the 2,600
households. Under the 10-year residential garbage contract with SDT, St.
Bernard pays $20 per garbage can.
At houses with multiple garbage cans or on vacant lots, Taffaro suggested
that the parish could be getting billed several times for the same address.
Torres said some homes have multiple cans because a resident went to pick up
an additional can after the first round of bins were delivered in 2006, and
that there is no overbilling involved.
Torres hired GCR & Associates Inc. last fall to get an accurate reading on
the number of occupied homes in the parish. He said he is following up that
report with an on-the-ground audit of waste cans by his own employees.
Torres said he is willing to adjust the terms to specify only one can per
"If the president wants to have monthly meetings and open dialogue with the
goal of working together to discuss the problems we have . . . we will be
open to working together," Torres said.
. . . . . . .
Chris Kirkham can be reached at ckirkham at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3321.
More information about the StBernard