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County's mailing for recycler criticized

The letter from Citrus County's Division of Solid Waste Management looked to Beverly Hills resident John Walsh like a standard piece of mail from the county government.

It bore the county's seal on the envelope, but inside were a letter from Beverly Hills Civic Association president Virginia Miller, a membership application for the association and an advertisement for Waste Management of Central Florida, pushing a curbside recycling program to replace the county's current program, which will soon be phased out.

Walsh was concerned, to say the least.

On Tuesday, he complained to the county commissioners.

"Since when does the Citrus County government sponsor membership in a civic group or advertise for a trash collector?" Walsh said. "This is a grave breach, and the person responsible should be severely disciplined."

Walsh, president of United Residents of Beverly Hills, said the county's recycling coordinator, Frank Wentzel, exhibited poor judgment and appeared to have been manipulated.

"Possibly it is time to let him move on," Walsh said. Wentzel declined to comment when asked about the mailing later.

Walsh also asked commissioners to find out if employees used county time, postage and supplies to produce the mailing, which consisted of about 5,200 envelopes.

Commissioners were sympathetic to the complaint, and County Administrator Tony Shoemaker apologized.

"It was totally inappropriate," Shoemaker said. "It should not have gone out."

Shoemaker has ordered the county's public works director, Gary Kuhl, to look into the matter and report back.

The county's director of solid waste management, Susan Metcalfe, said her division will review mailings with more scrutiny in the future. Still, Metcalfe said, announcements need to go out as the county secures recycling dropoff locations in Hernando, Crystal River and other areas.

"We need to be able to introduce the recycling program _ how it operates, when, where, who's sponsoring it. Those sorts of things have to be included," she said.

Walsh's frustration was not limited to the county's mailing.

He also told commissioners that Miller wrote in a recent article in the Beverly Hills Visitor that those who do not recycle may face fines.

The passage reads: "There is also the possibility that some time in the future, fines will be assessed on customers who do not recycle."

Walsh called the words "coercive tactics meant to increase the amount of material collected and thereby increase the money collected by the association."

"I ask the commission to assure the people of Beverly Hills that such an action will never happen," Walsh said.

Metcalfe later answered for county.

"Recycling is voluntary," she said. "No one is required to participate."

Miller defended her article, saying her intent was to lay out future possibilities, nothing more.

"By no means was it a threat," she said. "It's common sense. If people continue to load down the garbage with things that should not be put in it, then somebody's going to have to pay for it."

Miller also said she thought the civic association was not wrong for including a membership application in the mailing.

"There was no coercion in this," she said. "It was just a piece of information that was made available."