Editor's Note: Each year, the Times Record staff selects its top 10 stories of the year. The city of Fort Smith's admission that it had dumped residents' recyclable items into the landfill for more than two years was selected the No. 2 story of the year.
This year, Fort Smith residents learned that the city had dumped most of their recycling in the landfill since 2014.
The city began dumping recycling into the landfill in October 2014 after its contract with recycling vendor Smurfit KAPPA expired. More than 89 percent of collected recyclable materials were dumped from October 2014 to June 2016 while Green Source Recycling in Clarksville recycled what it could from the city. After June 2016, the city dumped all of the collected recyclable materials into the landfill until June 2017 when the city entered into a contract with Third Rock Recycling, LLC — after news broke that recycling had been dumped. The city did not notify residents and continued to run recycling trucks, which costs $52,920 a month, allowing residents to assume their recycling was still being recycled.
City Administrator Carl Geffken fired Sanitation Director Mark Schlievert about a week after the recycling news broke. Schlievert said he was not given a specific reason for his termination, other than that Geffken had lost confidence in Schlievert’s ability to run the Sanitation Department. Schlievert became the department's director in April 2016.
Geffken said he would not comment on Schlievert’s firing because it is a personnel matter but did say that Schlievert provided Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman with inaccurate information for a May 1 news release explaining the recycling problems. Dingman sent an email May 4 stating that there was incorrect information in the news release.
“The press release stated that Fort Smith hasn’t taken household recyclable material to Green Source since November, 2016. Upon receiving further information, it is now clear that Green Source has not been able to take our recyclables since June 2016. All residential recyclable material collected since July has been put in the landfill,” the email stated.
The city has yet to hire a new sanitation director. Dingman has served as interim sanitation director.