The Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District board voted Tuesday to terminate the management contract with the current director and to hire Bill Lord, the former director who was instrumental in the purchase of NABORS landfill in 2005
The district has been in receivership for about three years as a result of the board defaulting on revenue bonds sold to finance the 2005 purchase of NABORS landfill in Baxter County.
The Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, or EDD, originally managed the solid waste and recycling programs for the district until 2009 when the board cut ties with the EDD.
At that time, the board contracted with Via Recyclables, owned by Melinda Caldwell, to manage the solid waste district.
Boone County Judge Robert Hathaway nominated Justice of the Peace Fred Woehl to serve in his place on the board and the quorum court approved.
Earlier this year, Woehl was elected board chairman. One of his first orders of business as chairman was to appoint a committee to discuss the management contract after board members had clearly been unhappy with their relationship with Caldwell.
On Tuesday, Marion County Judge John Massey said the committee talked over the current situation in March. He said Caldwell told the board she was court appointed and worked at the direction of the receiver, Little Rock lawyer Geoffrey Treece. Massey’s recommendation was to “terminate Ms. Caldwell.”
“If she don’t work for us and she works for the receiver, the receiver needs to be paying her,” Massey said.
Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass pointed out that the district has no employees, rather a contract with Caldwell’s company to operate the district. But Massey said there had been no contract with Via since 2013 or 2014.
Treece said the contract with Via does exist and he would provide a copy of it for Massey. He said the contract language contained a clause stating the contract would renew annually if not terminated by either party. John Verkamp, Charleston lawyer representing the district, agreed, adding that a court would recognize it as a contractual agreement.
Treece continued, stating it was his understanding that Caldwell had already said she wouldn’t seek renewal of the contract when it expires June 30. He also said he understood there was some personal animosity among the parties involved.
“I don’t understand the headlong rush to bite off one’s nose to spite its face here,” Treece said. He went on to say that as an objective party he found the move to terminate the contract with Caldwell “ridiculous.”
“You’ve got a lot of institutional knowledge, experience and good will, especially with the regulatory authorities, with Ms. Caldwell,” Treece said. “I think it’s a bad idea for this board, personally.”
In fact, Treece said that if he were to exert his authority for the board, which he said he believed state law allows, he would renew the contract on paper.
As for the time Caldwell spent working with ADEQ on permanent closure of the landfill at his direction, Treece said that was on behalf of the district and was not a part of her contract. He told Massey he could have paid Caldwell out of funds paid to the receiver as court ordered, but he would simply be reimbursed from the district anyway.
“The district is going to have to pay somebody to do that stuff,” Treece said.
Woehl said the duties laid out in the contract with Via and Caldwell are ones that no longer exist because the district no longer offers those services.
Pendergrass said the move to terminate the contract could create liability and he thought it would be best for the board to figure out what it needs to do after July 1.
Bull Shoals Mayor David Nixon said he was asked to serve on the committee discussing the contract.
Nixon said his concern was that he had asked for information in the past and was told, albeit politely, that it was none of his business. He said he answers to the public, so that information is certainly his business.
Nixon said there had been a serious lack of communication between the board, receiver and Caldwell. He said he couldn’t go forward without making some form of objection.
“So,” Nixon said, “It’s not personal. It’s not animus. It’s not personal. It’s the inability to find out answers that I’m responsible for. That concerns me deeply.”
Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson asked why the board would want to terminate a contract that expires in a few weeks anyway. Treece said it might be possible to let Caldwell work with the board to make a seamless transition to a new director.
Nixon said that as a rule the entity severing employment doesn’t want that person to have access to sensitive records.
On a roll call vote, Massey, Nixon, Jackson, Woehl, Newton County Judge Warrant Campbell and Searcy County Judge Jim Harness voted in favor of the motion to terminate the contract, while Pendergrass, Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams and the proxy for Gassville Mayor Jeff Braim voted against the motion. As such, it passed.
“Ms. Caldwell,” Woehl said, “that means that you have been terminated. I would appreciate you gathering everything that we have that is of the board and taking them to Luke [Feighert].”
“So,” Caldwell said, “my company has been terminated. The files are ready. I’ll be more than happy to deliver those tomorrow.”
Woehl then said that as board chairman he anticipated what was going to happen, so he did research, looking for someone to take over temporarily. He said he wanted someone with the background and knowledge necessary to help the board find a new director.
Woehl introduced Lord and asked him to address the board.
Lord explained that he had been the original director of the solid waste district in 1993 when he was employed by the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, or EDD. He now has a consulting company that still offers services in the solid waste field.
He assured the board that he would be transparent in everything he does. He said he is retired and only wanted to help “steady the ship a little bit” and help the board find a new director.
Treece asked Lord about his involvement during the timeframe in which the district bought the landfill. Specifically, he asked Lord if he had made any recommendation to the board about buying the landfill, which some people have seen as a bad idea in retrospect.
Lord said the EDD provided information from CPAs, consultants and lawyers, most of whom said the purchase would make financial sense, and the board made the decision on the landfill.
Verkamp said the board needed to have clarity on Lord’s role, whether it be interim director or consultant, and that the specifics be laid out in a contract.
Woehl said he had told Lord he would be paid $5,000 a month (the same as the previous contract) for 90 days, but he hadn’t created a formal contract.
Massey moved to create a contract this week, then have another board meeting the following week to formalize a contract with Lord.
On another roll call vote, Pendergrass cast the sole “no” vote and the motion passed.
Woehl said the board will have another meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 19, to formalize the contract with Lord.