As part of the ongoing trash wars in Santa Rosa County, a judge has ruled that Waste Pro is subject to public records requests as it relates to the agreement it has with the county.
This step in the long, tangled legal battle centers on public records requests made by Adams Sanitation, which is vying to provide sanitation services to residents of the southern end of the county.
Adams made a request in November 2021 seeking a wide collection of documentation including texts, internal and external communications and more from Waste Pro.
Waste Pro ultimately took Adams to court on this issue, but Judge Darlene Dickey sided in favor of Adams.
"When the government delegates its statutory functions to private businesses, as here, Waste Pro is acting on behalf of Santa Rosa County when it functions as Santa Rosa's solid waste collector," Dickey's order reads.
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What does the ruling mean?
The newest order states the public may obtain records from a private entity when the entity acts on behalf of a public agency.
Waste Pro argued in the case that the county has not designated all waste collection to the company, which it argued should protect the company from having to comply with records requests.
"They (Waste Pro) base this argument on the fact that residents in the geographic area covered by the agreement have the option to transport their own trash to the landfill and because Waste Pro doesn't pick up biomedical waste for the County. In addition, Waste Pro claims exemption due to their limited geographic area since they do not pick up in the entire county," Dickey's order reads. "However, none of these reasons are valid. They are still providing residential waste collection in place of the County and have assumed the County’s public obligation."
A news release issued by Adams Sanitation following the judge's order said, "Assuming Waste Pro complies with the court order — and we assume they will, after all, Waste Pro filed the lawsuit, we’ll share those records with you (the public)."
The release notes Adams is particularly interested in reviewing how much Waste Pro's profit margin "expanded" under its current contract with the county.
The judge's order also made clear that it was not weighing in on the validity of the franchise agreement between Waste Pro and the county — the piece that Adams has long been challenging.
What's the background on the sanitation dispute?
Santa Rosa County has offered exclusive contracts for sanitation since 2011. In July 2020, Waste Pro extended its exclusive contract with Santa Rosa County until the end of 2024. But by the end of 2020, Adams Sanitation began signing up residents in northern Santa Rosa County for its service, which started Jan. 1, 2021.
Waste Pro filed its first lawsuit against Adams in November 2020, kicking off the sanitation wars. By the end of that month, Adams filed a counter-lawsuit that claimed Waste Pro's July 2020 contract was in violation of an earlier one they had signed with the county. Eventually, the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners granted Adams a permit to conduct service north of Yellow River, threatening Waste Pro's exclusivity.
Granting Adams a permit highlighted the commissioners' confusion around the sanitation franchising rules in the county, and commissioners ultimately voted to fire longtime County Attorney Roy Andrews over the issue.
Having been given a permit for the northern end of the county, Adams Sanitation then sought permission to service the southern part of the county. In 2021, the application was denied.
Adams filed an appeal with the Board of County Commissioners for the denial of the south end permit. The appeal hearing with the county was set for Sept. 9, 2021, but the commission later notified Adams that the hearing was canceled, prompting a new lawsuit from Adams that claimed a violation of the company's due process.
Adams began service in the south end of the county without that permit and, in mid-October 2021, Waste Pro succeeded in securing a temporary injunction that stopped Adams Sanitation from collecting trash in the south end of the county.
According to Adams' news release, the matter of its south Santa Rosa County permit will go back before the Santa Rosa County commission on Sept. 8.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Adams Sanitation wins court battle with Waste Pro over public records