Originally created 03/03/98

Landfill director loses job



Augusta's landfill director David Smith lost his job Monday and will be transferred to another position after a four-month investigation of theft at the county dump, according to one of two letters obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.

The other letter, dated Feb. 23, authorizes the suspension without pay of another landfill employee, Shawn Hargis.

City officials say she received gravel from the landfill and used it to pave her private driveway.

Ms. Hargis, who is engaged to Mr. Smith, must also repay the city $70 for the gravel, the letter says.

She returned to work Monday following a three-day suspension. Her salary, according to city records in the fiscal 1997 year was $21,874.

Mr. Smith and Ms. Hargis were both linked to the alleged landfill theft after another landfill employee, Rob Watson, was arrested and indicted on charges of theft of government property and providing false statements to law enforcement.

Both letters, written to city administrators by Interim Public Works Director Jack Murphy, follow an investigation of theft at the landfill.

The investigation has brought the suspension and indictment of one landfill employee, and the suspension of Ms. Hargis, in addition to Mr. Smith's reassignment.

"With the existing situation at the landfill, it is believed that this can and will be a positive move for the department, as well as the city," according to the letter which is dated Feb. 24. "Although we have an environmental engineer who will continue covering the landfill problems, it is strongly recommended that we hire a solid waste engineer/manager as soon as possible."

Mr. Smith said transferring to another department was his idea but refused to elaborate any further Monday afternoon.

City Administrator Randy Oliver said he and Mr. Murphy got together and agreed that Mr. Smith's reassignment was in the best interest for the landfill and the city.

He said he hasn't spoken to Mr. Smith but understands that the former landfill director agrees with their findings.

"Mr. Murphy and I agree that we need a change in management at the landfill," Mr. Oliver said Monday. "The landfill is big business and we need to make sure everything is done properly and in accordance with regulations. We need a solid waste engineer to head up the landfill and take it into the next century."

Mr. Oliver said city administrators don't know what job Mr. Smith will go to now; that will be left up to the interim public works director, he said.

Mr. Smith will be reassigned to other duties within Augusta's Public Works and Engineering Department, pending Mr. Oliver's approval, according to a letter dated Feb. 24.

Mr. Oliver approved the transfer Feb. 26, provided that Mr. Smith is moved to an existing position and not one created for him.

Mr. Smith's salary will also have to be reviewed based on the new position, Mr. Oliver says in a written response to Mr. Murphy's letter. Mr. Smith made $49,009 in fiscal year 1997, according to city records.

Harry Hartley, who was an operations manager of the streets and drains department, is now in complete charge of the city landfill.

Mr. Smith will remain at the landfill until Mr. Hartley has a grasp of the daily operations, Mr. Murphy says.

Ms. Hargis, a code enforcement officer at the landfill, was suspended 12 days after failing a polygraph test administered by Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials last month.

Mr. Murphy's second letter says Ms. Hargis was suspended because she knew county equipment was used to transport and place the gravel in her driveway.

"Based on the fact that you knew, or should have known, that the placement of the gravel and/or the use of the county equipment was improper, you are suspended without pay for a period of three days," the letter says.

In addition to the suspension, the letter says Ms. Hargis must repay the city for the gravel plus any labor and overhead expenses related to the matter.

She must provide a $70 check to Mr. Murphy, made payable to Augusta-Richmond County, according to the Feb. 23 letter.

Ms. Hargis can appeal the actions taken against her in accordance with personnel policies, city officials say.

She did not return a call from The Chronicle on Monday afternoon. However, personnel director John Etheridge said he has not received any information regarding an appeal by Ms. Hargis.

Mr. Smith, a former sheriff's deputy who headed the county's litter patrol division, was forced to give up his badge when he refused to take a lie detector test because his lawyer advised him not to.

Mr. Smith later took a test at the behest of city administrators and was cleared of any wrongdoing when results from the test, administered by GBI officials, were inconclusive.

Mr. Watson, 35, was indicted Jan. 27 by a Richmond County grand jury and is now awaiting trial.

He was charged with theft and making false statements to sheriff's investigators in November after officials accused him of stealing the gravel and lying to investigators.

Mr. Watson has admitted to using city equipment to move the gravel from the landfill to Ms. Hargis' home but said he did so after his boss, Mr. Smith, asked him to do so. Mr. Watson says he has a tape to prove that.

No other landfill employees have been arrested in the theft.



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