Recyclable materials mishandling dealt withBy BUSTER WOLFE,
An investigation by the City of Hattiesburg uncovered more than two years of mishandling of recyclable materials affecting 156 residents of Ward 4, leading to the possibility of refunding fees to those people who paid for recycling services that were not performed.
City officials announced the results of the internal investigation during a news conference on the steps of City Hall last week. Greg Ladner, newly-appointed assistant to Mayor Toby Barker, led the investigation that turned up the improprieties from Jan. 1, 2015, to July 15, 2017.
Ladner said the mishandling of recyclable materials occurred on one truck (No. 19947) on one day (Thursday) in one area (Ward 4).
Ladner said the investigation produced these findings:
• The Director of Public Works had placed reasonable expectations upon certain employees in our recyclables program.
• One employee did not meet the director’s expectations. The employee that did not meet expectations has been dealt with in what we feel is a reasonable and adequate manner.
• The incident video (recorded June 22) was one of a number of recurring incidents that occurred on truck 19947 every Thursday between Jan. 1, 2015, and July 1, 2017.
• Approximately 156 households in Ward 4 were continually affected as truck 19947 picked up recycling in parts of Ward 4.
• With 506 participants in Ward 4, that is the second-highest participation in all of our wards in Hattiesburg. Approximately 31 percent of that 506 were affected.
• The total recyclable program participation rate is 1,638. Approximately 10 percent of these participants were affected.
Each household was paying $3 a month for the recycling service. According to Barker, the highest refund would be about $89, but all of them would depend on how long the household was enrolled in the recycling service.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden said the situation was being taken seriously.
“Not only did the majority of the inappropriate action take place in Ward 4, but it happened in my own neighborhood,” she said. “Please note that our resolve to provide a recycling service to the citizens of Hattiesburg has not waned. We consider this an opportunity to not only take corrective action, but also to make things even better.”
Public Works Director Larry Barnes apologized for the recycling program snafu.
“I deeply apologize to those citizens whose trust we lost as a result of those decisions that were made by others within the recycling and sanitation program,” he said. “We were negligent in our mission to deliver reliable, effective and efficient service to those who volunteered for curbside recycling. … We failed in our commitment in keeping the trust of the citizens of Hattiesburg. For that again, I deeply apologize.”
Barnes said corrective actions were put into place in July “to make sure that this event that led to this negligent behavior should not happen again.”
After Barnes discussed the program with other city officials, he was able to establish clear conditions to improve this program, including:
• Two trucks will be assigned to recyclables Monday-Friday.
• On Wednesday, truck No. 19948 will be used to pick up areas on dead-end streets and all the avenues in Ward 3.
• From 7-11 o’clock, the truck would dump recyclables, decals would be taken off the truck and then the truck would pick up garbage in Ward 3.
• All drivers will take recyclables to FV Recycling in Sumrall and receive a dated and timed ticket signed by an FV Recycling employee.
• Truck No. 19948 will be used Thursday for recyclables in Ward 4. The same process will repeat itself.
City Attorney Randy Pope said those residents who paid for recycling services have three options: receive refunds, use the earlier payments as credits to their accounts or waive their rights to either earlier action.
Mayor Barker said residents who were affected by the recycling program’s negligence will be receiving letters allowing them to express their options for action. Residents who didn’t receive a letter and believe they were affected can call the city at (601) 544-5406.
“We spent a lot of time working through this problem, making sure that we discovered the full extent of how deep the problem went and how we could go about making amends,” Barker said. “I want the people of Hattiesburg to know that you can have confidence in your recycling program. I want our people to know that they can have assurance that we are not only committed to keeping our word in quality service delivery, but also to grow the program and the city’s sustainability effort.”