Full-time garbage man, part-time lawmaker

Georgia legislator works for Advanced Disposal in governmental relations

  • December 20, 2012
  • By Jeremy Carroll @jeremyscarroll
  • Waste and Recycling News

Courtesy, Brett Harrell  Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, addresses the Georgia House of Representatives.

Along with serving in the House, Harrell works for Advanced Disposal Services Inc. as a local governmental affairs liaison in the greater Atlanta area.  Brett Harrell’s official profile on the Georgia House of Representatives lists his occupation as garbage man.

“I’m proud to say that,” said Harrell, who was elected to his second term as a state representative earlier this month. “It’s a great industry.”

While Harrell, 51, doesn’t hang on the back of a rear-loader for a living, he has been working for Advanced Disposal Services Inc. since 2009 as a local governmental affairs liaison for the greater Atlanta area.

“I’ve only been in the industry for three years,” he said. “I’m an absolute bottom-level sales guy. Nobody reports to me. I’m nobody’s superior.”

But after spending more than 20 years owning his own printing business, it’s something he said he enjoys. Harrell was offered an interview for the job after giving a reference for another person for a similar role at Advanced Disposal, he said.

“My whole life has been a series of fortunate accidents,” he said.

Harrell first got into politics in the 1990s after a local zoning board didn’t take his requests seriously because he lived in a neighboring city. Harrell moved, ran for City Council and, two years into his term, ran for mayor, unseating a long-serving politician.

“I did not run for reelection,” Harrell said about his one term as mayor of Snellville, Ga., a city of 18,000 residents and located 25 miles east of Atlanta. “I just wanted to fix a few things and got them fixed in four years.”

In 2009, a friend was retiring from the State House and asked Harrell to consider running, which he did, winning the Republican primary and cruising past his Democratic opponent. He ran unopposed this year.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had an uncontested race,” Harrell said. “It was certainly enjoyable.”

The Georgia House has 180 members and meets only 40 days a year, starting in January.

His full-time job at Advanced and his part-time job with the state legislature don’t cross paths, he said.

“They knew from the outset my intention was to be a state legislator,” Harrell said of Advanced Disposal. “I intentionally do not serve on the National Resources Committee. I don’t go to those meetings, I don’t vote on issues that would directly impact my company. I’ve intentionally built a wall between myself and industry issues.”

He said the company has been really great throughout the process.

“They respect that my legislative votes and opinions are distinct from my service to the company,” Harrell said. “And they’ve respected that and honored that and I’m grateful they have.”

While morphing into the biggest private hauling company in the country, Advanced Disposal operates much like a “mom and pop” business, Harrell said.

“A lot of people say that once garbage gets in your blood, it stays forever, and I understand why,” he said. “The people are so good.”