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Solid waste director gets job back

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is rehiring its former solid waste director who blew the whistle on a behind-the-scenes effort to buy a privately owned landfill in Sumter County.

John Power, who worked previously for the county for 19 years, is scheduled to resume his former post on April 30. With no public comment, commissioners approved the hiring Tuesday morning. Power is being hired through the temporary employment agency, Ad-Vance Inc., until Feb. 23, 2019, at which time he will be eligible to become a full county employee again, following a one-year retirement.

Power retired abruptly Jan. 26 after a dispute with Cloyd "Flip’’ Mellinger, then Pasco’s assistant county administrator for infrastructure, over disposal of the county’s future trash. Mellinger suspended Power for five days, saying he failed to follow instructions to try to lock up long-term space in the privately owned Heart of Florida landfill, a facility that had been financed by Mellinger’s former employer — Marion County.

Marion and Alachua counties had explored, but did not act, on forming a regional solid waste authority to buy the landfill from the private company whose officers included Charlie Dean, the former Citrus sheriff and state senator, and his son.

Citizen advocates in Alachua County labeled the plan a bail out of Marion for investing $20 million in a landfill that wasn’t turning a profit.

Power, in his resignation letter, accused Mellinger of leading by intimidation and said burying trash in the landfill violated the county’s ordinance and comprehensive land-use plan that directs solid waste be burned in the trash incinerator in Shady Hills to generate electricity.

Power served the suspension, retired immediately, but remained on the payroll until late February.

Two days after he delivered his resignation letter, Mellinger formed a side business, Mellinger Environmental, to do utility consulting work.

Mellinger resigned in late March after text messages revealed he had asked a subordinate to do research on county time for Mellinger Environmental’s presumed client, the city of Marco Island. Mellinger had negotiated an agreement with his former boss from Marion, Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock, for a utilities study. The contract was never finalized. The Marco Island City Council fired Niblock after he was suspended while police investigated a battery allegation against him.

In a text message, Power said he was grateful to the county’s senior leadership for allowing him a chance to again lead the Solid Waste Department.

"This whole unfortunate episode has highlighted to me the importance of teamwork and effective leadership in any organization, and I look forward to once again serving my fellow citizens of Pasco County,’’ Power said.

Power, 63, originally became solid waste director in 2001. In approving the rehiring, commissioners authorized the county to spend $140,000 to maintain Power’s employment for the next 10 months.

County Administrator Dan Biles noted the challenges ahead for the department including expanding the trash incinerator, negotiating a new agreement to sell power produced from the plant and reusing the ash.

"John Power has the experience, historical knowledge and vision to guide Pasco through these critical decisions for the solid waste program, and we’re pleased to have him back on the Pasco County team," Biles said.

Reach C.T. Bowen @[email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

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