Trash talk: Hawkins waste director’s association with Ky. firm questioned

Jeff Bobo • Aug 28, 2013 at 12:15 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Solid Waste Director Charlie Freeman’s association with a Kentucky recycling company came to light after some of Freeman’s employees addressed the Hawkins County Commission Monday night.

Freeman, who is also a county commissioner, adamantly denies any wrongdoing.

But the revelation only added to suspicions of other commissioners who already believed his appointment to that paying position was a conflict of interest.

Following the retirement of former part-time Solid Waste Director Harry Burton in January, Hawkins County Mayor Melville Bailey appointed Freeman as interim director.

There are many in county government who praise Freeman for his contributions to the department, both past and present. Freeman is being paid the same $500 per month that Burton received.

Some commissioners are opposed to Bailey’s creation of a new full-time solid waste director position in the 2013-14 budget. Freeman is suggested as a leading candidate for that job, which was originally funded for a $30,600 annual salary but was lowered to $28,000 by the commission Monday.

Adding fuel to the controversy Monday was the fact that Freeman admitted an association with Somerset Recycling of Somerset, Ky. He said he has been paid a commission by that company in the past for purchasing recycled materials, but he has never sold materials to that company.

At the end of Monday’s Hawkins County Commission meeting, Commissioner Charlie Newton opened the floor for some employees of the solid waste department who have grievances with Freeman to address the full commission.

The main speaker on behalf of the employees was Ruby Trent, who said she is considered a supervisor to watch workers who are ordered by a court to serve community service, and she was also responsible for selling recycled materials.

Her first grievance was that Freeman took the recycling duty away from her.

Trent told the commission that changes Freeman has made in recycling procedures are costing the county money because they’re less efficient.

According to Trent, from February to August of last year community service workers picked up 156.4 miles of county roads and 196.7 miles of state roads.

She said this year during that same time period they picked up 65.6 miles of county roads and 152.1 miles of state roads.

Trent added, “The reason we’re not picking up any roads now, every day Charlie wants cardboard bailed. We save cardboard for our rainy days. Sunny days we go out and pick up trash. Now, sunny days, we bail cardboard. Rainy days we sweep the building because we don’t have any cardboard to bail.”

Trent also complained that Freeman changed the policy for loading recycled newspaper in trucks, which is costing manpower hours.

Trent said, “When I sold the newspapers, the guys who brought in the trucks to get our newspapers had an open trailer. We got it in, filled up and out within an hour. Now they’re coming in a box trailer and it takes four to six hours to load a box trailer.”

Commissioner John Metz told the commission he had contacted a company called Somerset Recycling of Somerset, Ky., and was told that Freeman is employed by that company as a consultant.

Metz said the changes Freeman has made in recycling procedures since taking over as director are “troubling” in light of his association with a recycling company.

“I’m not accusing Mr. Freeman of anything,” Metz said. “If it smells bad, typically there’s something that don’t add up.”

Freeman replied, “It’s a known fact that I have been buying material for Somerset Recycling out of Somerset, Ky. I have bought none for them in probably the last three months. I will say this. I haven’t sold Somerset anything. I’m not going to. As long as I’ve got this county job, I’m not going to. I’m not going to jail.”

Freeman went on to say he has never been an employee of Somerset Recycling.

“They do not take taxes out of my check,” Freeman added. “I have bought material for them, and they paid me a commission for it.”

It was also revealed Monday that Trent has allowed people serving community service sentences to leave after five hours on Saturdays, but still gives them eight hours of credit. Trent said it was a policy that carried over from when Burton was in charge.

The solid waste discussion last about 40 minutes, got ugly at times and ended without any resolutions after some commissioners started to leave.

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