As the Fort Smith Board of Directors and city staff gear up for a Tuesday (May 23) study session to discuss solutions to the ongoing recycling problem, former Fort Smith Sanitation Director Mark Schlievert is busy building his case for a possible wrongful termination lawsuit.
Schlievert was fired on May 10. Schlievert has consulted with Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen and believes city officials are using him as a scapegoat for a problem that dates back to September 2014 — close to two years before he was hired for the position.
Acting through McCutchen, Schlievert provided Talk Business & Politics with documents indicating the recycling issue was one of many issues the sanitation department faced when he was hired and that he tried to act quickly to address the issue once it was discovered.
In a May 4, 2017, memo to Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, Schlievert details 12 issues that were either unresolved from before or had been resolved since his first day on April 18, 2016. Schlievert states when he took over, the department had no safety program as required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for landfill employees; that heavy equipment at the landfill was “in such bad shape that at times the landfill operators had to utilize (the) excavator to compact trash” in contrast to requirements of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ); and that, two weeks after taking over, the department failed an Industrial Storm Waste Inspection from ADEQ, its first inspection in “more than 10 years.”
Encompassing items four and five on Schlievert’s list, the director details his understanding of the Green Source Recycling Center issue which resulted in the city recycling less than 13% of collected materials since September 2014. He notes in October 2016, a request for proposal (RFP) was written by him to potentially resolve the issue.
“I discussed this with Administration and was directed to write a Request for Proposal that would be due the 1st part of January, 2017,” Schlievert writes.
The RFP was previously mentioned in the city’s May 1 press release.
“Both proposals would take paper and cardboard at a local facility, but only MARCK (Industries) proposed a rate for accepting comingled materials, which is significantly higher than the cost of landfill disposal,” the release stated. “Currently, household curbside recycling services are included in the $13.28 monthly solid waste disposal fee (plus tax). The residential rate does not contain a specific component for recycling services. Based on the best proposal for single-stream recycling, the Department of Sanitation estimates that its costs for recycling services would result in a net operating loss to the City of $230,000 or more.”
Schlievert, through McCutchen, also shared an email exchange between himself and Dingman from April 5, 2017, in which Dingman notes, “This is going to be a touchy discussion,” referencing a previous email or discussion initiated by Schlievert but not provided to Talk Business & Politics. “You (and Carl) should feel free to edit/comment the memo. I did not touch on the detail that the public will have to be educated that, at least for a while, only paper & OCC (old corrugated cardboard) should go into the recycling cart. … We will have to work this up into a study session discussion for the Board, knowing that even though it might be the best recommendation, it’s not likely to go over particularly well.”
Schlievert responds on the same day that, “We may want to think about waiting until we complete the rate study” to better flesh out a solution. “It makes it bad that this has been going on for so long unbeknownst to the board and citizens. We may try more negotiations with Marck and see if we can get a better deal.”
Talk Business & Politics reached out to Dingman on Monday morning (May 22) to see when Schlievert first brought the issue to his attention and recommended it for Board consideration. Dingman had not responded as of Monday evening.
The recycling issue was initially brought before late former City Administrator Ray Gosack by former Sanitation Director Baridi Nkokheli on Oct. 10, 2014. Nkokheli’s memo stated the city’s agreement with its former recycling center had expired on Sept. 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 Dingman 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, or was allowed to follow through on the RFP.
Nkokheli was fired by Dingman on Dec. 7, 2015, for insubordination on an unrelated matter. An audit of the department reported on Feb. 2, 2016, did not mention the recycling issue.