Fort Smith Board says no to temporary recycling fix, sets May 23 study session to discuss options

by Aric Mitchell ( 1,298 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors decided not to follow through on a late-added agenda item to store the city’s recycled materials at the Fort Smith Landfill in their own designated area until such time the city can find a willing recycling center to accept materials.

The item was added to Tuesday’s (May 16) agenda on Monday night by Director Kevin Settle, acting on a suggestion two weeks ago by Director Tracy Pennartz. New information provided by landfill manager Alan Spangler convinced the Board otherwise.

Spangler co-authored an interoffice memorandum in early May. The document was provided to Talk Business & Politics by fired Fort Smith Sanitation Director Mark Schlievert through his legal counsel, Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, on Monday. The other two co-authors were residential collections manager Mitchell Parker and commercial/industrial manager Dustin Bradshaw. In the three-page document, the trio wrote their department “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.”

The memo continued: “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.”

Spangler confirmed to city directors on Tuesday the landfill was still not equipped to protect recycled materials for an extended period of time, thus making the proposed solution ineffective.

That’s not to say the city doesn’t have ideas about how to proceed. Those ideas will be presented at a May 23 study session starting at 6 p.m. from the Fort Smith Convention Center, Hall A-3. Typically study sessions do not allow for public comment, though the public is invited to attend.

A crowd of people were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting from the Fort Smith Schools Service Center, and two individuals did sign to speak, but their comments could only focus on the proposal to store recycling, not on the three-year “deception,” as Director Keith Lau called it, in which city officials failed to recycle 75% to 98.5% of all collected materials from October 2014 until coming clean in a May 1, 2017, press release.

The press release initially stated the city had only landfilled recyclables from November 2016-Present. Talk Business & Politics later discovered through the Clarksville, Ark.-based recycling center the city was using for processing the facility had stopped taking materials in late June 2016 — almost twice as long as the first announcement. Continued digging, and a pending wrongful termination lawsuit on behalf of Schlievert, revealed most recycled materials during the three-year period were landfilled with the vast majority going to waste.

Schlievert estimated 250 tons of recycled materials are collected each month. This number is roughly in line with the city’s estimates. From that tonnage, the city never sent more than 25% to Green Source. On Tuesday morning at a Central Business Improvement District (CBID) meeting, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, who oversees the sanitation department, was asked where the difference in total collected materials versus Green Source-accepted materials might have ended up. He replied, “You know where it went.”

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken told Talk Business & Politics on Tuesday night he would provide a reason for Schlievert’s termination along with calculations on the amount of recycling collected from October 2014 and the portion of that amount that went to Green Source. He did not provide a date for when those numbers would be made available.

City Directors George Catsavis and Keith Lau chastised city government’s actions to public applause at the close of Tuesday night’s meeting.

“The Board of Directors was informed about the recycling issue on May 3, and we had no prior knowledge the recycling program had ceased operations and recyclables were being put in the landfill before that date,” Lau said. “As a city director and citizen of Fort Smith, I was personally outraged and find the coverup totally unacceptable. I will not tolerate our city government deceiving its citizens on this issue or any others involving the city. The city totally dropped the ball on what should have been an easy statement to the citizens explaining our processing problem. This, however, was not done, resulting in a total communication meltdown. On behalf of the city, I apologize for our unnecessary poor judgment.”

Lau continued: “The reality of the situation is this: We must move forward to rebuild trust with the citizens of our city, and find solutions to the recycling problem. This Board of Directors and myself are taking action to make sure we have the right policies and people in our organization to prevent such failures in the future.”

Catsavis said the city needs to “seriously consider looking into handling our own recycling where we don’t need to rely on anybody and can handle it ourselves.” He also “wanted to apologize for what’s happened.”

“I was mad. I was embarrassed. I think it made the Board look like fools,” Catsavis said, noting he was “glad to see that people showed up (at the meeting), who are mad and voicing opinions the way they should.”

Catsavis continued: “There was no transparency here. And I have been about transparency and accountability from the get-go. People have the right to know, but the Board didn’t even know. To me, there’s a serious issue here. If the nature of government is going to be secrecy, then we have a problem. That needs to be changed. People have lost trust, and I don’t blame them a bit. But we’ll find a solution. It’s going to take some time. But thank y’all for coming out here and showing the Board you mean business and want some change. I appreciate that, and I’m going to try to do what is best for y’all. We were in a bad situation. I hated it. But if it happens again, then there are going to be some really serious issues. But this should never happen again. Y’all hang in there, and we’re going to try to do this right this time, and we’re going to let you know upfront what goes on before something like this happens again.”