Fort Smith City Clerk Sherri Gard has deemed insufficient a petition seeking to place an automated trash proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Organizers have 10 days to gather 10 more valid voter signatures and to address two legal problems with the petition’s language.
Joel Culberson led the effort — Vote for Automated — that collected 3,340 signatures in just 62 days to meet the legal goal of 2,822 valid voter signatures. He submitted those signatures to Gard on Aug. 8.
Culberson launched the effort in June following a 4-3 vote by the Fort Smith Board of Directors to suspend the program and keep manual collection to alleyways. The city’s Department of Sanitation has automated 24,578 households, with 4,095 remaining.
However, on June 5, the Fort Smith Board of Directors votes 4-3 to exclude several neighborhoods from fully-automated trash collection. The controversial vote stemmed primarily from a vocal group of residents who said the automated system was too much of an inconvenience for their older neighborhoods. Department of Sanitation Director Baridi Nkokheli said a fully automated city could see trash rates decline by more than $1 a month, but a hybrid system would not allow for the savings to pass on a rate decrease.
Gard struck 528 signatures submitted by Culberson’s effort. Of those 442 were signatures of non-registered voters, and most of the remaining ineligible signatures were either not verified by a notary public or were improperly dated.
Also, Wyman Wade, an attorney for the city of Fort Smith, noted two legal problems with the petition submitted by Culberson. First, the ballot title used by Culberson is “insufficient for failure to use an enacting clause that conforms with the requirements of the Arkansas Constitution,” Wade noted. Second, the “proferred title” submitted by Culberson “is misleading due to omission of specific reference to key portions of the proposed code sections.”
“(Y)ou should notify the sponsors of the petition that they have ten (10) days from the date of notice in which to amend or correct the petition by submitting a proper ballot title,” Wade noted in an Aug. 20 letter to Gard. Link here for a copy of Gard's letter to Culberson and Wade's letter to Gard.
Culberson said he is confident he can amend the issues in the 10-day period.
"I take full responsibility. Clearly if those 86 signatures had been notarized, we would have met our goal, but I am cautiously optimistic because we will be able to secure the 10 remaining signatures needed for sufficiency, and there were no fatal flaws raised by the city attorney’s opinion. I feel confident that our legal team will remedy the insufficiencies in the ballot title and other miscellaneous requirements as needed," Culberson said.