Like peeling an onion, scrutiny of county’s Solid Waste Department brings tears

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PASQUOTANK COUNTY — In last week’s paper, we reported that the Pasquotank County Commissioners voted to purchase a Mack Truck without bids from competitive sources. We went on to report that the Commissioners sought to bypass the bid process in regard to renewal of the contract with Stephenson Sand to operate the landfill. The same article went on to mention the questionable disposal of over 400 tons of recyclable cardboard.

In an effort to report further about the cardboard issue, we contacted James Morris, a frequent critic of the county’s Solid Waste Department. He was asked about the missing 400 tons of cardboard and much more. He related that he had requested information from County Manager Bunch about this matter and received the following email response:



Your request read “I would like to have a copy of County documents showing each load of cardboard sold since June 1, 2014 thru January 22, 2015. I would like to know the name, address, amount of cardboard sold and how much Pasquotank County was paid for each load.”

I actually provided you more than you asked for, you asked for documents for cardboard sold. There was no cardboard sold between June 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014. But I chose to provide you a monthly tonnage for the months of June 2014 thru December 2014 since you questioned that time period. The county did not receive payment for cardboard taken to the local recycling business during that time period. The company does not charge us for cardboard. We do not have a contract with the company. That is one of many reasons we are looking at other alternatives. Although we were not being paid for cardboard during this time period, the Solid Waste Department was saving money. If we have not disposed of it in the method we were using it would have been put in a compactor with other materials and hauled to the landfill at a cost of $66 per ton. According to my calculations for the time period of June 2014 through December 2014 there were 428.93 tons diverted from the landfill. That equates to $28,309.38 in savings (428.93 x $66).

I took a great deal of time to research this with our Solid Waste Director to provide you these details.

Mr. Morris stated to us that he could not follow the logic that we save $66 per ton by giving away recyclable materials that can be sold at a profit. We should derive a profit of $40 for loose cardboard and $45 and bailed cardboard. In this instance, the county could have received $17,157.20 (428.93x$40), less the costs of transporting the cardboard to Chesapeake Va., a distance of approximately 45 miles one way.

Mr. Morris wants to know who has the authority to give away tax payers property that could have been sold. He concludes that this is a criminal matter that should be investigated.

In a related matter, Solid Waste Director Mike Etheridge stated that he was seeking to purchase a Mack Truck because it has higher ground clearance than other trucks. Therefore, in order to properly consider this question, the ground clearance of a Mack truck at the landfill was measured revealing that there was 11 ½ inches clearance. Likewise, a measurement was taken of an International truck loaded with 6000 pounds, the clearance was 11 inches. The landfill has 4 trucks, only 3 of which are in use. The 4th truck was previously driven by an employee that has been promoted to management and thus is not being used. Nevertheless, with 1 truck not being used, the county wants to buy another at a cost of approximately $118,000. These trucks, if properly maintained, can achieve 750,000 miles, or more, on the odometer before they reach the end of their life span. No maintenance records have been requested to date, but when they are received, we will provide that information in a subsequent article.

As if these examples were not enough, we have the matter of the county purchased pickup truck that was acquired for the use of Mike Etheridge, Director of Solid Waste.

This matter first came to light when an employee complained that the Director was driving an expensive four-door pick up at county expense. When investigated, the County Manager supplied copies of the purchase paperwork (at our request) showing that the truck was purchased under a State Contract.

Bunch (the county manager) was present when this reporter interviewed Board Chair Joe Winslow. He stated that this was a six-cylinder truck and attempted to downplay the significance of the matter. However, upon review of the documents, we determined that the truck indeed had a six-cylinder engine. But it had an upgraded 3.6 liter engine at a cost of an additional $980. In addition it had a 32-gallon fuel tank at an extra cost of $70; a Parkview camera that cost $329; a fiberglass bed lid that cost at $1295; trailer brake controls at $216 and a black step bar that cost $395.

These extra items added $3295 to the price of the truck, which, of course, was paid with your tax money.

We questioned why it was necessary for the truck to have four doors and how this was needed for the Director to perform his job. There was no answer. We also asked if there were any comparison vehicles of other makes that were considered before purchasing this one. After asking the county manager about this on two occasions, we still await an answer.

Any person reading this should conclude that the extras had nothing to do with the job of the director and were purchased for the exclusive personal benefit of Mike Etheridge. Clearly, he pulls a personal trailer with the truck purchased for him by the taxpayers. Is this a proper use of taxpayer money? Should he have been required to pay for the upgrades out of his pocket? Why does he need a four-door pickup truck to do his job?