The Airport's Flush Fund

He was also skeptical about the claim that it will save on the amount of time maintenance crews will spend unclogging toilets that are stopped up with the excess toilet paper. "We cannot yet determine a labor cost savings due to Hygolet installation," he wrote, "however, we would estimate any labor savings to be insignificant compared to Hygolet's cost."

Money was apparently not an overriding concern for county officials: They merely passed the cost of this project on to the airlines by raising the fees they pay for operating at Miami International Airport. The airlines in turn pass the cost on to consumers by raising ticket prices.

Hamill says the county's chief concern was to provide a clean and sanitary bathroom. He believes the Hygolets have been a huge success. "I get very favorable comments about the units themselves," Hamill says. People who use the bathrooms "like the idea that it is a more sanitized environment. They feel more comfortable."

Six months before the Dade County Commission approved this deal, officials in Louisiana decided to install about 30 Hygolet seats at the New Orleans International Airport. The Big Easy wasn't charged for the seats, their installation, or their warranty -- compared to the $879,000 in fees Miami International Airport paid. In New Orleans the airport's own crew of janitors changes the plastic rolls in the seats, obviating the need for a separate and expensive maintenance crew like the one in Miami.

And New Orleans is spending only $4.98 a roll for the plastic liners, while Dade County was initially quoted a price of more than $8.00 each. County officials, however, say they believe the actual price per roll will significantly drop, though they are unable to provide any evidence to support that claim.

Besides the obvious differences between the two deals, there is one other important distinction. Instead of Bella Bagno, the New Orleans airport contracted with a different firm, Brill Hygienic, based in Delray Beach. "If I could have bid in Miami I could have saved the airport a lot of money, between 40 and 50 percent of what they are paying," says Alan Brill, the company's president. "I wouldn't have charged for the seats or the installation or any of those other things. The only thing I would have charged the county for was the plastic." And Brill claims the price for each roll of plastic would have been between $4.50 and $4.90 a roll.

Brill also says it's ridiculous to have a subcontractor earning $1.5 million over the next three years doing nothing more than reloading the plastic seat covers. "It's a waste of money," he says. "Why can't the same person who goes in there to clean the bathroom, wash the floors, and replace the toilet paper also replace the plastic rolls?"

Before Dade County awarded the contract to Bella Bagno, officials from the aviation department did contact Brill and invited him to submit a proposal. At the time, he declined. In an interview last week with New Times, Brill says the reason that he didn't compete for the Miami contract is that he was threatened and intimidated by Andre Stucki, the president of the company that distributes Hygolets in the United States.

Brill claims that in a May 1994 meeting with Stucki, he was told about the company's decision to target Miami International Airport (MIA) as the next major site for Hygolet toilets. And he claims that Stucki did not want more than one firm competing for the contract. "My arm was twisted," Brill says. "If I didn't give up the rights to MIA, they would sell me bad plastic."

In addition to providing the actual toilet seats to both Bella Bagno and Brill Hygienic, Stucki's company also supplied them with the specially designed sleeves. Besides the New Orleans airport, Brill has a number of other clients, including restaurants, and was dependent on Stucki to sell him the sleeves. Stucki's alleged threat concerning "bad plastic," Brill says, refers to deliberately sabotaged rolls of plastic. A few drops of liquid cement into a roll, he explains, will cause the sleeves to jam and burn out the motor in the toilet seat.

Brill claims he had to take Stucki's threat seriously because, he says, Stucki had sold him defective plastic in the past. Court records from Palm Beach County show that Brill sued Stucki in 1990, alleging that Stucki had tried to wreck his business by withholding delivery of plastic liners and then tampering with the rolls he was sold.

In February 1992, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Edward Rogers found that Stucki's firm had "wilfully and intentionally created the defects in some of the rolls of seat liners that were sent to" Brill. It was the second time in three months that Stucki and his firm were found in contempt of court. Stucki was not present in court; records show that Judge Rogers sentenced the company's comptroller, Lynn Rasmussen, to five days in jail in his boss's absence. Stucki did not recall phone calls last week seeking his comment for this story.

Brill, however, says that in May 1994 he could not financially risk another battle with Stucki over Miami International Airport, so he signed an agreement relinquishing any right to compete for that contract. He is speaking now, he says, because he is no longer dependent on Stucki's firm for plastic liners; he recently reached an agreement with another company that provides them.

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