Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders did not issue a veto Tuesday night (June 19) at the Fort Smith Board of Directors Meeting.
He didn’t have to.
But his comments leading up to the board’s decision to abandon a resolution soliciting bid proposals from third-party solid waste collection providers shed some light on what could have happened had City Directors Steve Tyler, George Catsavis, Philip Merry, and Pam Weber — the directors responsible for adding the item to Tuesday night’s agenda—not relented in their efforts to move forward.
Also Tuesday night, Merry issued “an apology to the people of Fort Smith” and led the way in reviving automated conversion for seven of the last 20 neighborhoods yet to make the changeover (approximately 1,600 of the remaining 4,095 non-automated households).
The seven areas are: Howard, Fitzgerald West, The Heights, Sulphur Springs, Fitzgerald North, Home, and some non-designated areas.
A RESOLUTION TOO VAGUE
Addressing the resolution soliciting bid proposals from third-party haulers, Sanders said, “It seems appropriate to defer action for a couple reasons. As written, the resolution is too vague. It does not require any specific qualifications, such as customer service levels, issues with employee appearance, equipment maintenance, replacement of recycling cans.”
Sanders continued: “I think we first need to determine what the request for proposal qualifications should include, and not just ask for a bid. Right now this could be all sorts of things to all sorts of people. As some directors have expressed, we expect service to be equal to or greater than that provided by the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation. To me, the resolution in front of us doesn’t address those kinds of expectations.”
Sanders added that “the possibility of the current petition efforts, whether they succeed or not, I don’t know, but not acting on this resolution tonight is not going to impact the level of sanitation service we provide. If the petition drive does become successful, and goes to the ballot, and is passed on the ballot, the question (City) Director Settle asked Mr. Canfield earlier could lead to some potential problems.”
This question Sanders referred to, posed by Settle to Fort Smith City Attorney Jerry Canfield, asked: if the ballot initiative (started by Fort Smith citizen Joel Culberson) is successful while the city has entered in to a third-party contract, what legal ramifications could exist?
“It’s an issue that probably deserves more thought and attention than I can give it now,” Canfield responded. “When you’re dealing with prior action creating a contractual right, what effect an initiated matter could have on that — frankly, I need to do some research to answer that question.”
Culberson said he expects to know by the end of the week where the ballot initiative language stands under legal review. Once finalized, he plans on petitioning for 2,822 signatures from registered voters and delivering to City Clerk Sherri Gard by Aug. 8. Gard will have 30 days to verify signatures and submit to the Sebastian County Election Commission for addition to the November ballot.
The effort led by Culberson began on June 5 when Merry, Weber, Catsavis, and Tyler, voted to end automated collection conversions to the 20 remaining non-automated neighborhoods.
Discussion of surveys resurfaced Tuesday night, with City Director Don Hutchings taking lead on criticism of the board’s action regarding past survey results.
“We sent out a survey, and 74% of those with automation were pleased. That evidently wasn’t good enough for this board. We sent out a second and 48% were for the automated, while 37% were against it. Then we sent out a third survey, and that’s the one we’re talking about tonight. Most citizens didn’t respond to it — only 27% participation — because they’re so frustrated with this board,” Hutchings said. “This survey that’s now the gold standard is not acceptable, and almost everybody agrees that putting up to a vote the Automated vs. Manual collection would result in 80% or 90% of the citizens voting for automation. Why are we trying to change that?”
AUTOMATED COLLECTION RESUMES
Following a barrage of criticism from fellow City Directors and Fort Smith citizens Ruby Thurman, Gary Thurman, and Phil White, member of the Central Business Improvement District (CBID), Merry said, “I know people are like, ‘Why in the heck don’t they get it, 86% on 14%, the vote and all that?’ I know that twice, people asked, if this automation idea comes to our neighborhoods, do we have to go (away from) manual? And twice we told them no, and that’s my whole thing. I cannot find it in myself to change the deal.”
Merry did change one deal, however, apologizing “to the people of Fort Smith. I missed a very key document in the study session two weeks ago,” he said. “I would ask that we reconsider the vote in that these seven locations clearly show a desire from the people, who voted, to have automated. Never was it my intent to take those voting with majority rule for automated to not have it.”
Weber added that she voted to end the automated conversions to all 20 neighborhoods because she also “thought it was an all or nothing thing.”
Good noted that the “key document” Merry missed was “vitally important” and that he felt the board “acted prematurely and jumped the gun” on the motion.
During the May 29 study session, Merry made the motion to place on the board’s voting agenda the original motion to end conversions to all 20 neighborhoods. It was seconded by Tyler.
Merry’s motion Tuesday, seconded by Weber, restricted the non-automated collection area to only 13 neighborhoods within the city (around 2,500 households), and met with unanimous board approval.