By JOSEPH CRANNEY and FAIMON A. ROBERTS III | NOLA.com | MAY 11, 2022
Months before Kenner’s abrupt and controversial decision in 2020 to replace its long-term garbage collector with IV Waste, a top city official helped the company secure a separate contract with a city-supported agency by sharing a competitor’s quote.
Top Kenner administrator Chad Pitfield showed IV Waste owner Sidney Torres IV the $16,000 price that a Torres competitor had bid for cleaning up after a Kenner parade in 2020.
IV Waste offered $750 less than Ramelli Waste, and won the job, ultimately earning $15,250 for the work, Torres said.
The unusual process raises serious questions about how public contracts are awarded in Kenner, where City Hall is already the focus of an FBI investigation. Under Louisiana public bid law, for many city services, companies must submit bids that are kept sealed until officials open them in public, after which the work is awarded to the lowest bidder.
Some professional services, often including trash collection, are contracted using a different process, where companies make proposals and officials need not pick the lowest-priced option. But even in those situations, it’s highly irregular – and potentially illegal – for a city official to share one company’s proposal with a competitor before the quotes are due.
The details of the parade contract and Pitfield’s involvement with IV Waste were first reported by WVUE-TV.
Pitfield, who was fired as Kenner’s deputy chief administrative officer over separate issues in February, didn’t immediately return a message Wednesday. City officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an interview, Torres said he didn’t ask Pitfield to reveal the price offered by Ramelli Waste. At the time, Ramelli was Kenner’s full-time garbage hauler. Torres said there was nothing improper about Pitfield’s actions, because the city did not formally solicit bids.
“They were negotiating trying to get the best price for the proposal,” Torres said.
He added that, in addition to a lower price, IV Waste offered more laborers than Ramelli. He also said IV Waste was the only firm capable of deploying a special street sweeper that the contract requested, though Kenner did pay a separate contractor for street sweeping, WVUE-TV reported.
“They called me,” Torres said. “I’m a businessman. I don’t see anything wrong with what we did. I think we did a great job and we saved (them) money.”
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission watchdog group, said the arrangement raises ethical questions because Ramelli wasn’t given an opportunity to counter IV Waste’s rate.
“If the objective is to get the trash picked up for the lowest possible price and you share one of the bids with one of the competitors, why not go back and disclose to the high bidder that he’s been underbid to see if you can save a couple more dollars?” Goyeneche said. “I’m not saying it’s a crime, but it’s an inherently unfair process.”
Torres was paid through Visit Kenner, Inc., an independent tourism agency created by then-Mayor Ben Zahn in 2018. The agency, with a three-member board appointed by the mayor, is funded by hospitality taxes collected within city limits.
Carolyn Barrett, Visit Kenner’s executive director, said her organization did not formalize a request for proposals for the parade cleanup work. The negotiations for that contract were overseen entirely by Pitfield, she said.
IV Waste is involved in a separate bitter legal dispute over Kenner’s June 2020 decision to cut ties with Ramelli. Owner Robert Ramelli filed a pair of lawsuits, suing Kenner for breach of contract and alleging IV Waste illegally used some of his equipment when the company took over the contract.
Torres has denied wrongdoing, and those allegations are still pending in Orleans and Jefferson Parish civil courts.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Ramelli declined to discuss IV Waste’s parade contract because of the pending litigation.
Less than a month after Kenner inked its long-term contract with IV Waste, Torres paid Pitfield more than $4,000 for delivering IV Waste trash cans to customers, WWL-TV reported. Pitfield also used an IV Waste email address while corresponding with Torres around that time, though Torres has said he never employed Pitfield.
Zahn fired Pitfield in February after the FBI subpoenaed his payroll records. Media reports had revealed Pitfield received roughly $86,000 in disaster pay on top of his $140,000 salary after Hurricane Ida.