Fort Smith board looking for ideas on recycling service

FORT SMITH — City officials will present one or possibly two proposals to city directors next week from companies wanting to provide recycling services to the city.

Officials are working with Marck Industries on a proposal involving two of its plants in Rogers and Fort Smith. That proposal was developed by Mark Schlievert, the former Sanitation Department director who was fired last week by City Administrator Carl Geffken.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said Wednesday he expects to receive a proposal from a second firm, 3rd Rock Recycling of Webb City, Mo.

Geffken said it’s important the companies accept single stream, or unsorted, recycling material from the city and the cost not force the city to charge residents for recycling services. Recycling is included in monthly sanitation fees.

Dingman said he believed proposals from both companies would be ready to present to city directors for their study session scheduled for 6 p.m. in Hall A3 at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

Geffken told directors during a meeting Tuesday they could be in a position to vote on a contract for recycling services at their June 6 meeting or earlier if they decide to call a special meeting.

Schlievert presented his solution in a May 8 memorandum in which Geffken asked Schlievert to respond to 10 questions about the recycling problem. The last question was: “What is the solution? The study session at which the solution will be presented has been scheduled for May 23, 2017?”

A copy of a portion of the memorandum was released by Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, who represents Schlievert.

Under the proposed negotiated agreement, Schlievert wrote, Fort Smith would transport its single stream recycling material to the Marck Industries plant in Rogers for $38.80 a ton. On return trips, Fort Smith’s trucks would haul back unrecyclable material from Marck and dump it in Fort Smith’s landfill.

Fort Smith would haul its own unrecyclable material for free, but Marck would pay Fort Smith $25 a ton for disposing of its other customers’ unrecyclable material.

Marck also would receive a landfill dumping fee of $25 a ton for the first 1,000 tons of trash it collected within the Fort Smith area, according to the proposal.

Fort Smith would transport paper and cardboard to the Marck facility at 301 North Second St. in Fort Smith and receive $80 a ton, or 50 percent of the market price, Schlievert wrote of the proposal.

Geffken sought explanations from Schlievert regarding 10 questions about inaccurate information the city put out earlier this month in explaining why the city was dumping its recyclable material into the landfill.

Two days after Schlievert submitted his answers, Geffken fired him. Schlievert had been working as head of the city Sanitation Department since April 2016.

McCutchen said Tuesday he believed Schlievert was a scapegoat and there wasn’t a valid reason to fire him. He said he and Schlievert are considering suing the city.

“They did not give a reason for his firing other than they lost confidence in him as sanitation director,” McCutchen said.

“I’m not going to make any comment,” Geffken said of McCutchen’s claim. “Mr. McCutchen is entitled to his opinion.”

A news release issued May 1 by Dingman said the city stopped recycling in November after Green Source Recycling of Clarksville refused to accept any more of its recyclable material. He attributed that information to Schlievert.

Days later, Dingman had to correct the statement when he said records showed Green Source hadn’t been taking the city’s recycling since at least July, not November.

In the 10-question memo, Geffken asked Schlievert about the time discrepancy. Schlievert said Green Source notified the city in early August it had an “operating issue” limiting its processing ability to accept Fort Smith’s recyclables until mid-October.

Schlievert wrote processing lines break down from time to time and he believed that was the case with Green Source. But when Green Source was contacted in mid-October, it notified the city it wouldn’t accept any of its recyclables.

Green Source director Justin Sparrow said earlier this month the line didn’t break down. Rather, Green Source closed its service to Fort Smith because it couldn’t handle the large amount of material the city was sending.

Fort Smith officials didn’t notify city directors or the public the material was going into the landfill instead of being recycled until May 1, when Dingman issued the news release.

Directors commented at Tuesday’s meeting they were unhappy about the lack of notification about the recycling issue for so long.

“I want to apologize to the audience for what happened,” Director George Catsavis said. “I was mad. I was embarrassed. I think it made the board look like fools when this came out.”

In the May 2 directors meeting, Geffken said he took responsibility for failure to notify the board and residents sooner their recycling efforts were being wasted. The lack of communication wasn’t an attempt at deception, he said.

He said he had been distracted over the past few months by attempts to modify a federal consent decree over chronic sewer system violations and by the collapse of a project to develop a tournament-quality softball complex on city property.

McCutchen released on Tuesday a Department of Sanitation interoffice memorandum dated May 5 saying since Green Source began accepting Fort Smith recyclables in October 2014, it was limited in the amount of material it could accept. It never accepted more than 25 percent of what the city was sending.

“This amount dwindled substantially throughout the date range of October 2014 through June 2016 to the point where at times we were only taking them 1.5% to 3% of the amount of recyclables we collected,” the memo said.

The memo was written to Schlievert by department Residential Collections Manager Mitchell Parker, Commercial/ Industrial Manager Dustin Bradshaw and Landfill Manager Alan Spangler. It was written, the memo said, to “provide clear and concise information pertaining to all aspects of the city of Fort Smith’s recycling program.”

Geffken said Tuesday he hadn’t seen the memo.

Sanitation department employees tried to stockpile some of the material it brought back from Clarksville but, exposed to the elements, it deteriorated and was unusable.

Without knowing about the earlier attempt, Fort Smith directors considered voting Tuesday to stockpile recyclables until a new recycler was on board. They abandoned the proposal after Spangler told directors stockpiling wouldn’t work.

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