Tahlequah Daily Press

May 7, 2013

City officials at odds over yard waste

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Discussion of a yard-waste disposal ordinance put Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols and Street Commissioner Mike Corn at odds over details Monday night, just as it did last year on the same topic.

Nichols said the city tried to create an ordinance last year, when brush removal was a topic of controversy among city leaders. But the proposal died and was never passed.

Assistant City Administrator Kevin Smith told council members Monday they should keep in mind the crews who are fighting with the debris being left behind.

“I do believe something needs to be done for the guys out there who are handling this,” said Smith. “[Brush] is coming to the curb in bulk and in all types of manner.”

The proposal outlines the frequency of collections by the street department; sets limits on the type and amount of materials that can be left behind; describes how brush should be placed and arranged for collection; and sets fees for additional collections or for excessive yard waste. It would also give the assistant city administrator the power to temporarily suspend the limitation on collection of yard waste during severe weather or other emergencies.

Corn told the council the street commissioner should have that ability, and Nichols disagreed.

“We can’t have the same person saying, ‘These are the rules,’ and implementing them, decide on a whim [not to implement them],” said Nichols. “That just doesn’t conform to long-standing administrative principles, basically. So I just tried to take myself out of the equation and pass [the responsibility] along to the administrator.”

Nichols said he was trying to find a “compromise.”

“Well, we’re out there on the front lines fighting it,” Corn said.

Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston and Ward 2 Councilor Dr. Charles Carroll asked for clarification on some of the limitations proposed in the ordinance. At one point, Corn referred to the proposal as being Nichols’, and the mayor responded by telling Corn not to call it his policy.

“This was up to the street department,” Nichols said.

Corn told Nichols not to “go there with me,” and added, “I’m not going there with you.”

Nichols said the city asked the street department to come up with a policy for yard-waste disposal because the Department of Environmental Quality discovered the city was burning brush at an old dump site, which was illegal.

“This is about as reasonable as you could ever hope to produce,” Nichols said of the proposed ordinance.

Councilors took no action Monday on the proposed ordinance, but are set to discuss it at the next meeting.

Last year, city officials opted to purchase a 15-inch wood chipper to help dispose of brush. The decision came after several months of debate about what size and brand to buy.