A jury trial has been scheduled in July for the former Fort Smith Sanitation director who has sued the city for libel and defamation over the 2017 recycling scandal.
Mark Schlievert, who began work at the Fort Smith Sanitation Department in April 2016 after moving from South Carolina, was fired in May 2017 by Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken about two weeks after the local press brought to light the city’s recyclables had been dumped into the landfill since 2014.
Records show, however, both Geffken and Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, knew of the issue for months as Schlievert searched for a new recycling carrier.
At a scheduling conference Tuesday, Sebastian County Circuit Judge James O. Cox coordinated time with attorneys for the city and Schlievert for a trial, but denied a request by Schlievert to be deposed by video from South Carolina.
Mediation between the two parties may be possible, pending approval of terms by the Fort Smith Board of Directors. Doug Carson of Fort Smith attorneys Daily & Woods, lead counsel for the city’s case, noted they have requested Schlievert’s claim for city violation of the Whistleblower Act be decided separately from the defamation claim.
“The Whistleblower claims are related to his job performance issues and what he alleges he did ‘blow the whistle’ on what he perceived to be issues in the Sanitation Department,” Carson said. “The defamation case related to comments that Carl Geffken, city administrator, allegedly made to the board of directors and in our view those are two separate and distinct issues.”
Schlievert’s attorney, Brad Hull of Kevin Hickey Law Partners in Bentonville, disagreed and said “while they may be separate issues as far as an ultimate conclusion” the truth of statements will also be determined Schlievert’s work history.
“We can try the case and resolve the equitable issues on my own and submit the issues of fact, the legal issues to the jury, otherwise we’ll have to have two trials, and that involves more expense for travel for Mr. Schlievert,” Cox said.
Carson and Hull agreed to the terms. Schlievert had requested a deposition by video with the city’s attorneys because of travel expenses and uncertainty on job security with his new employer. Schlievert, his attorney said, has been unable to find employment in his field since his termination in Fort Smith.