The Vote for Automated campaign is on track to get city-wide automated curbside solid waste collection on the Nov. 6 ballot, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
According to Fort Smith Director George Catsavis, who opposed the effort as part of the 4-3 vote that suspended the automated conversions in June, a lawsuit could be in the works.
“Someone told me there’s fixing to be a lawsuit filed over this. They said the petition didn’t offer a choice. I didn’t pay much attention to it. It’s nothing definite, more rumors than anything,” Catsavis told The City Wire by phone on Thursday (Aug. 9).
Catsavis said the informant, who contacted him by phone “didn’t name names,” and the director did not say if he would support such an action.
Vote for Automated organizer Joel Culberson said he hasn’t “heard anything either directly or indirectly, as far as alternate plans or legal action.”
Culberson lives in Park Hill East, a battleground location in the continuing debate. At the March 6 meeting, the board voted 4-3 to return Park Hill East to manual collection after rolling out automated collection, which boasted a larger number of supporters than detractors, depending on which of the city's surveys one believes.
“We feel confident in our wording. We did go over it (the ordinance) carefully, and carefully crafted it with legal counsel. If it (potential lawsuit) is about the ballot or ballot title, we’re prepared to defend it,” Culberson said.
In spite of coming down on opposite sides of the issue, City Directors Catsavis and Pam Weber, who also voted against continued automation conversions, praised the Vote for Automated campaign for its efforts.
Weber called it a “great effort.”
“They seem to be very well-organized. As far as I could tell, they seemed to know what they were doing as far as getting signatures and following guidelines,” Catsavis added. “I can understand both sides. I know automated is cheaper, but I also understand the people in Park Hill have tough issues. But what it boils down to is the city hollering rate increase, and people have called me asking why I’m going to increase their rates. Well, I’m not increasing their rates. Just because the city says that, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
Fort Smith Director Phillip Merry, who joined Catsavis and Weber in the vote against automated, wasn’t ready to follow suit with praise, nor was he ready to speak out. When asked for his thoughts regarding the effort that culminated Wednesday with the delivery of 365 pages of signatures supporting automated, Merry answered simply, “In America we enjoy many special freedoms and rights.”
Catsavis, Merry, and Weber, confirmed that they had “no regrets” over their previous vote, but only Catsavis was willing to say more than that.
“The whole problem with this thing was the rate increase, and the city coming out and saying the rates are going to go up. The city can’t raise nothing (sic). Only the board can do that. It put a lot of people on edge about this rate increase, when only the directors can do that, and people need to call their directors and not listen to the city.”
Catsavis continued: “I think there could have been a compromise where we worked everything out with no increase to anybody in the city, but you know, that’s over and done with now. If they (voters) vote totally automated, that’s fine, but I really believe people should have a choice in regard to city services. But if that’s the will of the people, then so be it. Let’s see what happens.”
Merry preferred to “wait and see the results of the verification of signatures process” before deciding whether he would campaign against Vote for Automated.
Weber said, “I haven’t really thought about it at this point.”
Catsavis, who faces Ward 4 candidate John Cooley in November (an automated supporter), said he would not.
“Let the people vote. That’s the process, and they have that right.”
Fort Smith Director Steve Tyler did not respond to questions from The City Wire on Thursday, but he did agree to a request from Merry for an Aug. 14 study session requesting rate differentials between automated and non-automated parts of the city.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Weber had joined in approval of the request, which will need one additional supporter to make the study session agenda. Should the request not win a fourth vote, there will be no study session due to a lack of other business. (When the decision is announced, The City Wire will update.)
Fort Smith Director Andre Good attacked the request in an email to various recipients on Thursday. Good believed it was “a last minute request” targeting the sanitation department and asked Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack whether Sanitation Director Baridi Nkokheli had “ample time to produce the information being asked by directors?”
“If so fine, but we have not been able to enjoy the benefits and cost reductions as a result of all of this extra tasking to this department,” Good said.
The e-mail continued: “We have lost savings and future savings that could have been seen with timely implementation of the last rollout. We have expensed 10’s of thousands of dollars this year on educating the community, seeking efficiency and the will of the people that I’m sure will need to be address (sic) in the upcoming budget review. And if I can relate this request to what some directors called a slap in the face to the pet advisory board, this is yet another slap in the face to those involved in and those signing the automated curbside petition to be placed on the November ballot.”
Good added, “Frankly I have had about enough of all this.”