Trash pickup expected to resume today

Uncollected trash sits by the curb last Thursday on Union Street in Benton Harbor. Residents said the trash is usually picked up in that area on Wednesday. Wecycle Industrial Sanitation owner Robert Edwards says the $39,000 monthly payment from the city was given to a former employee, leaving him with no money to pay for fuel and the landfill fees.

BENTON HARBOR — After almost a week of garbage piling up, pickup should resume today in Benton Harbor, if everything goes as planned.

Benton Harbor city commissioners voted Monday to advance November’s payment to Wecycle Industrial Sanitation LLC, in care of Robert Edwards of Southfield.

But that won’t solve the entire problem. 

“It’s clear that there’s a struggle internally ... and that will be hashed out and worked out amongst them,” Mayor Marcus Muhammad said, adding that it will probably be done through the court system.

He said the city commission has the responsibility to make sure the trash is picked up, and Edwards was the authorized person at Wecycle who signed the contract with the city.

Edwards said that as soon as he gets the money to pay for fuel and landfill fees, he can start picking up trash again.

Edwards said last week that his company was forced to stop picking up trash after the company’s monthly payment of $39,000 was given to a former employee – someone he had fired over a year ago.

That employee, Virginia Huddleston of Benton Harbor, on Monday gave a stack of papers to the city clerk that Huddleston said would explain what is going on. 

“It’s going to happen very soon,” she said Monday night. “We will know after 10 o’clock (today).”

Huddleston did not elaborate. Attempts to reach her after the meeting were unsuccessful.

Along with advancing money to Edwards, commissioners approved giving him a 30-day notice to correct problems, or the contract will be terminated. 

Wecycle started picking up the city’s trash on Oct. 2, 2017, but the contract wasn’t signed until Feb. 5, 2018. The contract signed between the city and Wecycle includes signatures from Edwards, Muhammad, then-City Manager Darwin Watson and city Clerk Kimberly Thompson.

Commissioner Duane Seats said it is Edwards who put up the $50,000 bond so Wecycle could enter into a contract with the city.

He said Wecycle did not breach the contract, but that the money was given to the wrong person.

“They didn’t have any problems until you gave away their check,” Seats said.

Seats addressed that comment to Interim City Manager Ellis Mitchell. Seats said Mitchell made a mistake when he directed that the $39,000 payment be deposited, over the objection of staff in the finance department, into a new bank account created by Huddleston. 

At a previous meeting, Seats had charged that Mitchell was paying people before the city commission gave its authorization.

A motion put forth Monday by Seats and Commissioner Sharon Henderson would have limited Mitchell to having to get city commission approval for any payment over $1,000. That motion failed 5-4, with Commissioners Ruthie Haralson, Juanita Henry, Ron Singleton, MaryAlice Adams and C.F. Jones voting against it.

Voting for it were Commissioner Edward Isom along with Seats, Muhammad and Henderson.

Mitchell didn’t speak until the end of the meeting.

“There was no mistake made here, and you all just heard one side of the story,” Mitchell said. “... You have not heard the other side of the story. And I’m not going to mess with it. I’m going to leave it alone.”

Wecycle was initially listed as being owned by Edwards, Huddleston and her brother, Jewell Allen of Champaign, Ill. Huddleston and Allen are siblings of Commissioner Adams.

A Wecycle Industrial Sanitation DBA (Doing Business As) document is listed with Berrien County, with all three as owners. Wecycle Industrial Sanitation LLC is listed with the state, with Edwards named as the sole owner. 

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