Fired Fort Smith sanitation director indicates recycling went to landfill going back to 2014

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 3,185 views 

Fired Fort Smith Sanitation Director Mark Schlievert has provided documents through Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen suggesting the city’s landfilling of recycled materials may have originated in October 2014 instead of the June 2016 date Talk Business & Politics discovered following a city press release dated May 1.

The May 1 release stated a number of inaccuracies. Chief among them was a statement the city’s sanitation department had only been landfilling recyclables since November 2016. A later conversation with Clarksville, Ark.-based Green Source Recycling Center Director Justin Sparrow revealed the actual start date was June 27, 2016 — a date the city would later acknowledge as accurate prior to Schlievert’s termination.

Other errors in the May 1 release included a statement Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) permitting was the reason the facility stopped accepting Fort Smith recyclables, and another stating the center had closed its single-stream processing line.

The city’s initial estimate of 1,478 tons of recycling being taken to the Fort Smith Landfill from November 2016-May 1, 2017 works out to around 250 tons per month. However, a document Schlievert — through McCutchen — states as representing the actual tonnage taken to Green Source indicates the amount of recycling delivered at the center never exceeded 25% of what was collected. At the end of the agreement, the percentage had dwindled even further to between 1.5% to 3%, leaving questions as to what happened to the remainder of those materials (75-98.5%).

Schlievert received an answer of sorts in an interoffice memorandum dated May 5, 2017, from residential collections manager Mitchell Parker; commercial/industrial manager Dustin Bradshaw; and landfill manager Alan Spangler.

In the three-page document, the trio writes that, “We periodically delivered loads to Clarksville that they were unable to accept and we were forced to return to Fort Smith with the material and try again at a later time. We were trying to stockpile some of this material in 40 yd compactor receiver boxes until we could take it to them at another time, but the material was slowly contaminated and deteriorated to the point that it was no longer usable due to becoming wet, moldy, etc. At one point in 2015, Marck Recycling provided us with a walking floor trailer, but we were unable to use it as we didn’t have a location build that was high enough for us to push the material off of the floor and into the trailer. On August 3rd of 2016, we were completely denied access to Clarksville’s facilities as they no longer could accept our material. An email was sent by Dustin Bradshaw to managers and upper level sanitation administration explaining this problem. After looking into this matter further it was discovered that emails from management to admin began in April and May of 2016 which clearly showed that we were only recycling minuscule percentages of the recycling that we were collecting. Sanitation administration was aware of the limitations we were experiencing at Greensource beginning in 2014 and running through 2016.”

The exact tonnage breakdown of recycling materials sent to Green Source — as provided by Schlievert and McCutchen — for the periods from October 2014-June 2016 are as follows:
October 2014: 58.194 (or about 25%)
November 2014: 39.75
December 2014: 22.04
January 2015: 38.88
February 2015: 44.56
March 2015: 52.79
April 2015: 73.22
May 2015: 54.12
June 2015: 45.78
July 2015: 43.75
August 2015: 42.99
September 2015: 42.85
October 2015: 34.83
November 2015: 27.98
December 2015: 29.51
January 2016: 26.85
February 2016: 21.03
March 2016: 8.49
April 2016: 3.53
May 2016: 7.76
June 2016: 9.73

Again, the tonnage portions taken from what Schlievert and the city’s own estimates state to be between 246 to 262 tons of recycling per month on average.

The interoffice memorandum from Parker, Bradshaw, and Spangler, to Schlievert also notes that “Department of Sanitation staff met with Charles Stringer and Susan Speak of the ADEQ on 5-6-16 to discuss the reporting of recyclable materials. The ADEQ informed department staff that we’d been incorrectly reporting our recycling credits and they showed us the proper way to complete these reports. On 5-10-16, the City of Fort Smith landfill manager sent an SOP regarding proper recycling tonnage reporting procedures to sanitation administration. This information was distributed by sanitation administration to department staff in an attempt to ensure that we would be able to avoid future problems in this area. Charles Stringer and Susan Speak arrived for an inspection on 9-1-16 and again reviewed our recycle reporting procedures to ensure that we were reporting this information correctly.”

Talk Business & Politics has reached out to Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken numerous times asking for month-by-month breakdowns of total recycling tonnage collected and total tonnage sent to Green Source to see if there are, in fact, discrepancies as Schlievert has alleged and, if so, where the difference in collected materials went. TB&P has also asked Geffken to provide a reason for Schlievert’s termination as required under Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws. Geffken has refused to provide the termination reason and has not responded to the tonnage requests as of Monday evening.

One other possibility raised by Schlievert’s case is at least five of the current seven Board members — excluding Tracy Pennartz and Don Hutchings — knew about the September 2014 contract expiration. However, further research by Talk Business & Politics cannot confirm if any of the Board was ever made aware of the expiration date or the extent of the recycling issue with respect to how much was being recycled.

Schlievert provided a memo through McCutchen written by Schlievert’s predecessor, Baridi Nkokheli, to the late former City Administrator Ray Gosack and dated Oct. 10, 2014. The memo stated the city’s agreement with its former recycling center expired on September 30, 2014. “The agreement was allowed to expire in an effort to identify a more cost effective means to get the materials processed,” Nkokheli said. “The company previously providing the services proposed to continue processing the recyclables for $35.00 per ton, which is more than the disposal rate at the City’s landfill ($34.43 per ton including taxes and fees). Recyclables collected since the end of the agreement have been stored and will be delivered to a recycler in Clarksville, Arkansas for processing, at no charge, in the interim. A request for proposals (RFP) will be published for two weeks beginning October 18, 2014. Recycling services are very limited in our area and we hope to find a viable solution and new agreement for the Board’s consideration on November 18, 2014.”

Talk Business & Politics checked out the Oct. 14, 2014 study session agenda as well as the Nov. 18, 2014 regular meeting agenda and neither date included Nkokheli’s memo, indicating the document never made it past Nkokheli and Gosack, at least on the dates written in Nkokheli’s memo. There was also no immediate evidence Nkokheli had followed through on the RFP.

On Monday night, the city added the recycling issue to its May 16 agenda under “Resolution Directing the Department of Sanitation to Store Collected Recyclable Materials in a Separate Location at the Fort Smith Sanitary Landfill and Authorizing the City Administrator to Request All Necessary Permits Authorizing Same.”