Garbage is piling up in BH

Trash cans sit full of garbage, uncollected, Thursday afternoon on Union Street in Benton Harbor. We-Cycle Industrial Sanitation owner Robert Edwards says a $39,000 check from the city was given to a former employee last week, leaving him with no money to pay his bills.

BENTON HARBOR — The trash in Benton Harbor is starting to pile up as the company contracted to pick it up waits to be paid.

Robert Edwards, owner of We-Cycle Industrial Sanitation, said that when he went to pick up his company’s monthly $39,000 check from the city last week, he was told that the check had been given to a former We-Cycle employee, Virginia Huddleston, who he had fired more than a year ago. At the same time she was fired, Edwards said his company gave a letter to the city stating that Huddleston was no longer allowed to pick up checks for the company.

“I spent my last $500,” he said. “We have no money to buy fuel.”

Edwards said he also needs money to pay the landfill where the garbage is taken – an $11,000 expense last month.

Willie “Curly” Williams, who says he managed We-Cycle until he quit Wednesday, said Huddleston was originally listed as one of the company owners. But Williams said she never put any money into the company, so Edwards became the sole owner, with her at first listed as an employee.

Williams said he was told by city officials that Huddleston had paperwork with her showing that the company had recently been reorganized, but they didn’t keep a copy. 

“How can she reorganize the company when she’s not part of the contract?” he said.

Williams said he went to city hall Tuesday morning, where he advised the city to stop payment on the check. But when officials there tried, they were told by the bank that it had been cashed.

Later on Tuesday, he said there was a meeting with Interim City Manager Ellis Mitchell, Public Safety Director Dan McGinnis, the public works director, Huddleston, Edwards and himself. He said Huddleston was asked to produce the reorganization paperwork, but she said she didn’t have it with her. He said they waited more than two hours for her to return with the paperwork, but she never returned.

A call on Thursday to Huddleston’s cell phone went unanswered, with a message saying her phone mailbox was full. She also didn’t respond to a text message. Huddleston is the sister of city Commissioner MaryAlice Adams, who declined to comment, saying she stays out of her sister’s business.

Interim City Manager Mitchell, contacted by phone Thursday, said this is an internal matter for We-Cycle to handle.

Williams said the bottom line is that the company can’t pick up the trash unless they can pay the bills.

“Our gates are locked and they’re going to stay locked until we get the money,” he said.

Meanwhile, city Commissioner Duane Seats said he has contacted Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey and asked his department to investigate the matter. 

Seats said Bailey told him that he would check with Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic.

Bailey did not return a phone message Thursday. Sepic said in a text message that it’s too early to comment.

Seats said that even though he voted to approve the contract for We-Cycle to pick up the trash, he was against the idea.

“I told them at the time of the vote that they’d regret it,” he said. 

We-Cycle is a newer company. It was supposed to purchase the trucks and equipment from Industrial Sanitation, which is owned by Williams. But that didn’t happen.

Industrial Sanitation provided garbage service to the city for 18 years until former Emergency Manager Joseph Harris awarded the contract to Reliable Disposal in October 2010. We-Cycle started picking up trash on Oct. 2, 2017. 

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege