Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District looking for answers

HARRISON, Ark. -- The brand new Ozark Mountain Solid Waste chairman knows he has a mess on his hands, and it’s not going to be fun to clean up.

"It's kind of like when you go out and buy a farm, one of the first things you got to do is go out there and shovel all the manure," said Fred Woehl, the new chairman.

Woehl leads a panel that oversees garbage and recycling across five counties in northwest Arkansas.

"Ozark Mountain Solid Waste has went downhill for a period of time," said Kevin Elliott, the mayor of Marshall.

Woehl traces that back to 2012, when the old board defaulted on $12 million in loans and closed a landfill. A judge ruled the district needed to collect $18 a year from each parcel owner to pay off the debt. People who live in the six counties will now have to pay back $30 million, which is for the debt and to clean up the landfill. It could take about 30 years to pay it all off.

"Now it's going to the public to pay Ozark Mountain Solid Waste debt," Elliott said.

The board thinks a key factor is getting answers from Ozark Mountain’s Executive Director, Melinda Caldwell.

But there’s a problem there, too.

"She just blew us off. She told us several times she did not work for us," Woehl said.

Both Caldwell and the former chairman Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass were not at the meeting Tuesday.

Still, board members finally got some answers from Geoffrey Treece. He’s working to make sure the bondholders get their money back from the district and believes Caldwell should be answering to the board.

"Her duties run to the district," Treece said.

The board wants Caldwell to produce a paper trail for what she spends money on and other documentation.

"She's not independent. She's not on her own. She answers to the board," Woehl said.

For now, Caldwell is keeping her job. The board said she’s an asset to the district, but her tenure might not last much longer without some changes.

"If Ms. Caldwell can not produce receipts and tell us where all our money is going, I would make a motion to put her job out for contract," said Marion County Judge John Massey.

The board formed a committee to give Caldwell 30 days to produce receipts they have been asking for.