Differing stories emerge on downtown landscaping

story by Aric Mitchell

Fort Smith Director Pam Weber and Frank Sharum, sub-contractor on the downtown streetscaping project, are not telling the same story.

At night two of city budget hearings (Nov. 15), Weber approached city directors about the possibility of compensating Sharum for landscaping materials he had over-purchased for the streetscaping project from 9th to 13th Streets in the downtown area.

“I know we're tight on funds but last spring I received a call from a contractor (Sharum), who was doing the downtown streetscape,” Weber said. “We had several meetings, and he purchased quite a bit of materials. He got the downtown streetscape project, and we met and came up with a plan and talked, and come to find out, they're designated funds. He said the budget was big enough that he could do all – spruce up what we needed him to spruce up. He made plans to spruce it up, went out and purchased quite a bit and then we found out we could only use it in the east end of the alley.”

Mike Alsup, director of parks and recreation for the city of Fort Smith, said the sub-contractor “hasn't talked to me, and he hasn't talked to the engineer about it,” to which Weber replied, “Well, he's talked to me many times.”

Weber continued: “And I wasn't even involved in it. He just called me because I had done some plantings down there.”

Sharum spoke to Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack on Monday (Nov. 19), and his comments appear to directly contradict Weber’s. According to an email from Gosack to city directors and the media, Sharum “reiterated” that he did not request payment for the additional trees that he’d purchased outside of the streetscaping project’s scope.

“Mr. Sharum said the landscaping allowance in the streetscape contract was too much. He said that somehow Pam Weber learned of this and asked about ordering additional trees for other areas of the downtown,” Gosack wrote. “Mr. Sharum went on to say that he realized through conversations with Forsgren (the general contractor on the streetscape project) that the funds for the streetscape project couldn’t be used in other areas of the downtown. He came to this realization several weeks ago when he submitted the landscaping plan for the downtown streetscape to Forsgren. That’s when he realized he would have to find other uses for the additional trees he had ordered, which he has done.”

Gosack continued: “Mr. Sharum is especially upset at the inference that he expected, wanted, or needed the city to find a way to purchase the additional landscaping materials. Mr. Sharum said that while the landscape planning for the downtown streetscape was underway, director Weber called him ‘three, four or five times and asked about the rest of downtown.’ She was expecting Mike Alsup to call Mr. Sharum to arrange for the additional work in the downtown, but Mr. Sharum said he was communicating with the general contractor (Forsgren) and the engineering dept. staff. Forsgren, the engineering dept. staff and Mr. Sharum reached an understanding that the additional work couldn’t be performed under the streetscape contract.”

“Mr. Sharum went on to say that Pam Weber said she was told to re-do downtown Fort Smith,” Gosack added.

Last Thursday Fort Smith Director Kevin Settle chastised the subject as “inappropriate” and told Weber “He (Sharum) shouldn't meet with you. He should meet with the general (contractor) and the city administration, not a director. A director should not be in the middle of this.”

Weber denied she was “in the middle of it,” to which Settle shot back, “But you said you were.”

“He called me about what he could do down there to complement what I had done,” Weber said, implying that Sharum initiated the contacts. Sharum’s comments to Gosack indicate otherwise.

The City Wire made contact with Weber Monday afternoon at 4:22 p.m. as she was “heading into a meeting.” Follow-up calls Monday evening were not returned.

Weber and directors George Catsavis, Philip Merry and Steve Tyler have voted to add the discussion to the meeting agenda for Tuesday night (Nov. 20).