Fort Smith Board told of sanitation department savings, hears from police captain

by Aric Mitchell ( 27 views 

Baridi Nkokheli, the head of Fort Smith’s Department of Sanitation for more than 10 years

A sanitation department audit, an impassioned response from a Fort Smith Police officer accused of perjury, a plea to continue supporting the Fort Smith Museum of History, and microbreweries, topped Tuesday night’s (Feb. 2) agenda at the regular meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

Interim Sanitation Director Doug Reinert presented the Board with a $650,998 operating budget reduction after a thorough review of the department in the aftermath of former director T. Baridi Nkokheli’s termination. Reinert, the full-time Parks and Recreation director, employed his department’s staff in the review, which consisted of interviewing a variety of Sanitation employees, including managers and equipment operators.

“Learning how landfill/collections operates and comparing those operations with expenditures I concluded there is an imbalance of efficiency,” he wrote in a memo to Acting City Administrator Jeff Dingman.

Dingman terminated Nkokheli (pronounced NO-KO-KAYLEE) on Dec. 7, 2015. Dingman alleged that Nkokheli was insubordinate and had solicited personal loans from a city vendor and from subordinate employees. Nkokheli has denied the allegations and, as a 10-year department head and the city’s only African-American director, said that he is considering a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city.

Reinert’s review, which was met with praise from City Directors, ordered a system of transparency, placing “controls on spending by implementing an accountability system for all purchases.” He required that each invoice be stamped and authorized by the Program Supervisor “to identify unnecessary expenses in order to establish a starting point for reducing the amount of outgoing cash flow,” the memo stated.

One of the largest savings points, Reinert said, was in eliminating a temporary staffing agency the department used and instead employing six full-time personnel as well as three part-time or seasonal positions. This action reduced personnel costs by $18,398 and operating expenses by an additional $65,000, for a total savings of $83,398.

Reinert’s team was able to remove $83,620 in inefficiencies from administration; $160,045 from residential collection; $190,400 from commercial collection; $22,449 from fleet and grounds maintenance; $124,624 from sanitary landfill; and $69,860 from sanitary industrial collection, all of which add up to the $650,998 total.

The savings will be added to the Sanitation Sinking Fund “for purposes of replacing aging fleet, future expansion of the landfill, expanding collections and ensuring the Department of Sanitation is in compliance with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations applicable to the landfill,” Reinert stated.

Fort Smith Police Captain Jarrard Copeland appeared during the Town Hall portion of Tuesday’s meeting to provide a written statement to City Directors. While Copeland did not have extra copies on-hand, he expressed a willingness to make the document available to the media.

His defense centers on allegations made by Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell that he committed perjury on Aug. 29, 2014, as part of a hearing related to a whistleblower lawsuit by plaintiffs Don Paul Bales, Rick Entmeier and Wendall Sampson. The three police officers have maintained they were fired or disciplined as a result of trying to point out illegal behavior within the FSPD.

As for Copeland’s defense, he acknowledged that “it’s been very difficult for us to sit back and watch these accusations fly all over social media, all over the newspapers, all over the TVs, and not say anything. But we chose to take the high road.”

Copeland continued: “His lawsuits have been dismissed and now they’re at the appellate level, and I’ve heard several times, ‘Why don’t you say something back and deny all these accusations?’ My trying to infect his computer or Chief (Kevin) Lindsey violating federal laws or a whole bunch of other allegations that he’s made in the last two and a half years that are simply not true.”

Copeland confessed that it went “against everything I was ever raised to believe in to let someone sit back and attack me personally and not say something about it.” Of Campbell’s affidavit, Copeland said he wasn’t “the least bit worried about it.”

“I’m no saint,” he added. “I’m human. I make mistakes, and I will continue to make mistakes. I’ll make the wrong decision sometimes. But I guarantee you, I will tell the truth, every time. And I take pride in that. I did not commit perjury. Never have, never will. And I think you’ll be convinced of that. And call him if you have any questions for him.”

Copeland said he felt there was “no choice” but to go on the offense because of the repeated attacks, reiterating there was “no corruption” in the Fort Smith Police Department and implying that Campbell was on a power trip.

“He brought down a couple of high ranking people once upon a time, and he thinks he’s going to do that here. And I would love for him to keep looking. He can look as long as he wants.”

Directors George Catsavis and Don Hutchings offered their support.

“One of the biggest misinterpretations in the Bible is that Jesus didn’t defend himself when he was before Pilate,” Hutchings said. “Pilate said, ‘Don’t you know that I have authority over you?’ And he challenged him. He said, ‘You’re wrong. You wouldn’t be allowed to do any of this if my father weren’t allowing it to happen,’ so I’m so thankful that you’re speaking up.”

Also Tuesday night, the Board received a brief history lesson on the relationship between the city and the Fort Smith Museum of History before voting unanimously to continue providing utilities support.

City Director Tracy Pennartz had requested the item authorizing the agreement be tabled at the Jan. 19 regular meeting. The agreement was to provide reimbursement of up to $20,000 annually for water, sewer, sanitation, gas, and electricity expenses. The city’s contribution makes up approximately 8.6% of the Museum’s budget, according to Museum Treasurer Drew Linder.

Executive Director Leisa Gramlich defended the payment during the history lesson, noting that the city’s oldest building – the Commissary Building that is now part of the National Historic Site – would likely not exist if not for the Museum’s proprietors making it available to the city.

The relationship between the city and the Museum dates back more than 100 years. In 1910, a ladies’ group acted to save the Commissary as a place to preserve the community’s heritage. The Old Commissary Museum (later known as the Old Fort Museum) occupied the building for close to 70 years.

In other news, the Board revisited the matter of commercial zoning for microbreweries, which was one of its more contentious debates in 2015. At the Nov. 3 meeting, the Fort Smith Brewing Co. (FSBC) lost its bid to include microbreweries in C-5 commercial zoning, effectively nixing its planned location in the 9th Street Corridor after two churches spoke out against it. The business has since relocated to Chaffee Crossing.

The portion of the city in FSBC’s initial request has been C-5 since 1962, and allows for businesses like “bars, pool halls, or clubs like the Electric Cowboy,” noted Fort Smith Development Services Director Wally Bailey in comments to City Directors Tuesday night. However, microbreweries were disallowed from C-5 by the Board’s November vote.

Following public outcry, they were eventually included as “conditional use,” but after a final review and recommendation by the city’s Planning Commission – and a petition with close to 200 signatures – the Board decided to include microbreweries as “permitted use” at Tuesday’s meeting by a 7-0 vote.