The trash service issue isn’t over for Joel Culberson. And if he can pull off a large task in the next 62 days, the issue will be in front of a larger voting block.
Prior to a vote by the Fort Smith Board of Directors to exempt 20 remaining neighborhoods from automated trash service by the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation, Culberson made an impassioned plea for the Board members to consider the cost efficiencies and safety for city employees in fully converting to an automated system.
The city’s Department of Sanitation has automated 24,578 households, with 4,095 remaining.
The Board, voting 4-3, eventually supported the wishes of a vocal group of residents who said the automated system was too much of an inconvenience for their older neighborhoods.
The deal is not finished for the pro-automation Culberson, who is a resident of Park Hill East, the first neighborhood exempted from automated service.
“I live in Park Hill East. ... I know a little something about this,” Culberson said, adding that he believes a majority in the neighborhoods exempted want the modern, automated service. “I was in the majority of the first two surveys who said they wanted it, but they (City Board) said, ‘Nope,’ and they took it away.”
He believes in it so much that he told the Board he has launched a petition drive to gather 2,822 valid voter signatures by Aug. 8 to place the issue before a vote of all citizens.
“I know it will take a lot of work to do that. It may be hard to get people motivated because it doesn’t have a large amount of money tied to it,” Culberson said, adding that over time, he believes the efficiencies of a modern trash program will save hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars for the city.
To gather a base of supporters, Culberson sent an FOIA request to City Directors about their correspondence with citizens on the issue. City Directors George Catsavis, Don Hutchings and Steve Tyler did not reply to the request.
But Culberson did gather between 2,500 and 3,000 e-mails, with many, according to Culberson, supportive of automation. From that list, he has about 100 people who he plans to contact to see if they will actively support his against-the-odds effort to gather signatures.
Culberson said he plans to rely primarily on “social media and a lot of grassroots” support to get the word out. His “VoteforAutomated” Facebook page is the first push in his social media effort.
“I hope so,” Culberson said when asked if he could really gather 2,822 signatures in just over 60 days. “But if nothing else, it should get people involved, informed and engaged.”
City Director Kevin Settle believes the effort, if it makes it to the ballot, could be a success. In his comments prior to the Board vote, Settle rhetorically asked his Board peers how roughly 85% of Fort Smith residents with automated service will vote if they see that trash service rates will increase if automation is not fully implemented.