Guam Solid Waste enters 10th year under receivership
Guam’s solid waste system will remain under Gershman Brickner and Bratton ‘s control until June 30, 2018 — an indictment of the territorial government that has failed to complete its court-mandated tasks nearly a decade since it was placed under federal receivership.
GBB’s term as federal receiver was originally set to expire on Dec. 31, but the federal court pointed out that “a smooth transition cannot occur as originally contemplated” due to a lack of readiness on the part of the Guam Solid Waste Management Authority’s board and its new management to resume control over the agency’s operations by the end of the year.
"This is not the ideal way to transfer control over this multimillion dollar agency, and the court will not allow even a partial transition over GSWA operations to occur in such a slipshod or careless manner,” Chief Federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood said in a decision Friday.
The court noted that the GSWA board has not completed the post-closure plan for the Ordot facility, has not hired a chief financial officer and has yet to draft operating rules.
“As noted by the court in its previous order, the post-closure plan for the Ordot facility has still not been approved because the proposed plan needs to be updated to address the mitigation of residual methane gas in the soil,”.
After tackling the nature and extent of the problem during a court hearing on Nov. 28, stakeholders determined it would take several months to obtain the data necessary for the implementation of a remedial plan.
“Accordingly, the court orders that the receivership be extended until at least June 30, 2018, to complete the work associated with the methane gas mitigation plan and the (Ordot) post-closure plan,” the court said. “Neither the board nor the government of Guam objected to this request, and the court concurs that it would be more efficient for the receiver to remain to complete this matter.”
“This is not the ideal way to transfer control over this multimillion dollar agency, and the court will not allow even a partial transition over GSWA operations to occur in such a slipshod or careless manner.”
The federal court appointed GBB as a federal receiver on March 18, 2008, as a result of the government of Guam’s failure to comply with the Clean Water Act as set forth in a consent decree. Signed between Guam and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 11, 2004, the consent decree required the territorial government to shut down Ordot Dump, cease all discharges into the Lonfit River, open a new municipal solid waste landfill facility, and implement recycling strategies to reduce the volume of materials going into the landfill.
The court also identified the financial management aspect as another area that may be at risk if control of solid waste operations is prematurely restored to GovGuam.
Under the court-approved transition timeline, the recruitment of a general manager and chief financial officer was to begin in January 2017. The board hired a new general manager in September 2017, but the position of chief financial officer or comptroller still has not been filled. The board has informed the court that the selected candidate for the position would begin working by Dec. 11, 2017.
“The court is troubled, however, that the person selected as the new comptroller will have only three weeks to orient himself and gain a thorough understanding of GSWA’s finances such that he can properly assume his role and responsibilities,” the decision states.
“Regardless of his qualifications, the court finds that a three-week transition period is wholly inadequate for the new comptroller to familiarize himself with all the requirements of the job.”
The court noted that even the new manager, Greg Martin, who has been working with the receiver and the GSWA staff for more than two months now, admitted he did not have a full understanding of GSWA’s finances.
“Thus, if the Receivership were to end on Dec. 31, no one at GSWA would be qualified to procure supplies and/or services until the comptroller and Mr. Martin finish the procurement training,” the court said. “
Photo courtesy of GBB
The court recalled that prior to GBB’s takeover, finances of the Department of Public Works’ Solid Waste Management Division were in shambles. The division was spending as much as $11,000 each day to furnish rental equipment and contract operators because its equipment was broken. Its ability to track the accounts of customers who had not paid or who cancelled service was so poor that approximately 4,000 customers – accounting for 25 percenet of its customer base – were receiving free services.
“The receiver devised a plan for customer tracking and revenue collection that assured both fairness and accountability for services provided, and today GSWA’s finances remain strong because of the receiver’s management,” the court said. “GSWA’s new management team will not have to deal with the challenges the receiver faced when it was first appointed, but it is important for the new management team to understand this history in order to fully appreciate all the work the receiver did to turn this agency into a paragon of efficiency.”
The court has also ordered the board, its legal counsel and the new general manager to begin drafting and updating the operational rules and regulations.