The frustrations have mounted over the past couple of weeks when word got out about Fort Smith’s recyclables not being recycled. How long residents’ recycling has been going to a landfill remains unclear.
The city’s sanitation director, Mark Schlievert, was fired last week following the recycling controversy.
According to feedback from Times Record readers through phone calls and letters, the failure to be notified that the recycling service had ceased is the biggest source of contention. As we continue to urge transparency in our local government, be it a school board or city council, the lack of communication on the recycling issue is disheartening.
The reason for the lack of communication, according to Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken, was to keep residents in the habit of recycling. Geffken said he did not want to ask residents to stop their recycling habits while the city was putting recycling in the landfill and looking for a solution. He had hoped the problem would be a short one, but there’s still no solution at this point.
“By no means was it anything related to active deception or conspiracy,” Geffken said at Board of Directors meeting earlier this month.
Residents have wondered out loud whether that’s true. Could the city be hiding something else? These are fair questions.
“I was saddened and really puzzled by the fact that I had to find out about this on Facebook, and had I not taken the initiative myself to take time out of my day to call the director, I would not have known about it,” Lacey Jennen, a Fort Smith resident and Parks and Recreation commissioner, said during the recent Board of Directors meeting.
Meanwhile, the city continues to run the recycling trucks, which kept up the appearance that the recycling process was going on. The cost to run the trucks every month is more than $52,000, according to Jeff Dingman, deputy city administrator.
When city employees are denied a 1 percent cost-of-living pay raise, and the Fort Smith Police Department struggles to function amid cutbacks and budget problems, it does not seem wise for the city to run recycling trucks for no apparent reason.
According to an email from Dingman, “We are evaluating a way to use (the recycling trucks) to assist with regular collection route or yard waste routes until we can get a regular recycling operation running again.”
The city’s contract with recycling vendor Smurfit KAPPA expired in September 2014. The city took recycling to Green Source in Clarksville until July, but had to reduce the amount it could accept from Fort Smith. City officials have been negotiating with MARCK Industries Inc. to take the city’s recyclable waste.
The biggest hurdle in finding a solution to the recycling problem is cost, according to Geffken. Geffken said the city wants to find a solution that that does not affect the budget.
“There’s no recycling around here that will not cost the city of Fort Smith a significant amount of money to continue recycling,” he said.
A news release from the city states that recycling is included in residents’ monthly solid waste disposal fee; residents were never paying extra for the service.
But 1,478 tons of recycling, based on numbers announced during a directors meeting, have been dumped in the landfill in about a year’s time. That’s a distressing amount of material that Fort Smith residents took the time to separate for recycling.
“I’ve spent months separating my trash and taking labels off cans — for nothing,” a recent anonymous caller told the Times Record.
And yes, she has a right to be angry, as do the residents who spoke at a Board of Directors meeting this month, as do all of Fort Smith’s residents who made the effort to recycle for no reason.
We are disappointed that city leaders failed to be open and honest about the recycling situation. Residents deserved a heads up about the situation. Instead, recycling trucks continued to roll through neighborhoods at a cost of thousands of dollars per month, and residents were none the wiser about the problem until recently.
We hope the city can find a solution to the problem soon. And in the future, we hope city officials remember that honesty and transparency is the only real way government can function properly.