The FBI met with Clearwater officials last week to offer assistance as the city investigates lapses in its recycling program that stretch back years, interim City Manager Jennifer Poirrier said on Wednesday.
Poirrier could not confirm whether the FBI has launched an investigation of its own, or what aspects of the problem the agency might be exploring. But she said agents reached out to help after seeing media reports about the city’s recent failure to recycle any materials it collected from residents.
Three representatives of the FBI’s Tampa field office met on Feb. 13 in downtown city offices with Poirrier, City Attorney David Margolis, finance director Jay Ravins and senior budget analyst Hunter Carlson, according to Poirrier.
Poirrier said she has not had contact with any FBI agent since the Feb. 13 meeting. She said city officials are gathering documents and data to give to them to review.
“I was absolutely surprised,” Poirrier said of the FBI’s outreach. “It was unexpected but I’m supportive. We want to know as much as possible about this and what happened, so we would not shy away from any assistance in terms of helping us put together the pieces.”
FBI spokesperson Andrea Aprea declined to comment, citing the bureau’s policy not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
On Jan. 6, Poirrier said she discovered that the city’s solid waste department had been collecting recyclables from residents’ homes but had not sent any materials to the WM processing plant in Tampa since June. Instead they sent all recyclable materials with the regular refuse to the Pinellas County Solid Waste Disposal Complex.
As city staff investigated the matter over the next few weeks, they confirmed that the problems go back years, not just the previous six months.
Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Clearwater has delivered a bafflingly low amount of recycling to WM each month for processing since at least January 2020.
Between Jan. 9 and Jan. 31, after recycling restarted following the discovery of the breach, the city sent 231 tons to WM — more than twice what it delivered in most months in the last three years. When calculated per person, that’s about half of what St. Petersburg typically recycles each month.
Clearwater is also responsible for transporting recyclables from Belleair and Safety Harbor to WM for processing. However, in most months since January 2020, Clearwater’s total deliveries to WM were less than what the city had collected from just Belleair and Safety Harbor, according to data from the processor.
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The City Council had contemplated granting refunds to Clearwater residents and the cities of Belleair and Safety Harbor for the months from July to January. However, council members on Feb. 17 tabled the refund discussion until they confirm how far back the problem goes.
City officials, citing staff turnover in the solid waste department, have struggled to piece together how the failure occurred for so long. Former solid waste director Earl Gloster retired in November and former assistant director Bryant Johnson resigned in January following the discovery of the breach.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said he supports the FBI’s offer to assist.
“I was obviously surprised that it had escalated to this level, but we are cooperating and I look forward to finding out what they find out if they can give us some more clarity,” Hibbard said.