State pulls Earle Water Dept. head’s license
Clark appeals decision after investigation uncovers falsified reports
Earle’s water manager has filed an appeal with the Arkansas Board of Health’s Drinking Water Advisory and Operator Licensing Committee after the state ordered him to surrender his licenses following an investigation that determined that he submitted false information on a copper and lead test in the city’s water.
Danny Clark was notified last week by Jeff Stone, director of the Health Department’s engineering section, that he had 15 days to surrender his treatment and distribution license.
Clark said he faxed his appeal to the Arkansas Department of Health on Monday and also sent his response by certified mail.
“I am still a licensed water systems operator until my appeal has been heard,” Clark said.
Clark said the suspension is overly harsh and that he has never had an infraction in 42 years as a licensed water systems operator.
“I think this is a bit severe for what it was,” Clark said. “It was nothing intentionally malicious.”
Seven residents signed notarized statements attesting that their signatures were falsified on the forms related to the samples taken in September. Water systems are required to collect samples every three years from random homes from a
“It was one house… We just got a bad sample. It didn’t get in the water. It got in between me getting the sample and the hydrant.” — Earle Water Department Manager Danny Clark on a recent E. coli scare in the city’s water supply.
list to be tested for copper and lead due to possible corrosion in the pipes. The list contained 30 names out of the city’s 600 water customers. Clark was supposed to pick 10 names and take water samples inside the home from a faucet.
The samples came back free of lead and copper but it was unclear where the samples were collected.
Clark admitted he took the samples from an outside faucet at the addresses listed and signed the homeowner’s names. According to Clark, he thought he was under a deadline to get the samples to the Health Department by the end of the day and signed the names because the residents were not at home.
The matter came to light after a disgruntled employee who had been fired by Clark made the allegations public. Edward Bolden alleged that Clark filled the tubes himself from a water source behind the water department.
Mayor Sherman Smith went to the addresses listed and tested the water himself. The samples came back showing no traces of copper or lead, which Smith said isn’t unusual because the city has all new PVC pipelines in their distribution system.
“The likelihood of us having lead or copper are very slim anyway,” Smith said.
Clark was suspended without pay by Smith and spent the last two and a half months off the job pending the results of the investigation. He has since returned to work, but the city is still dealing with a number of compliance issues
The request for Clark to surrender his license comes on the heels of a recent boil order. The city was placed on an emergency boil order for the entire system last Wednesday by the Arkansas Department of Health because of the presence of E. coli bacteria, which showed up in a water sample. The order was lifted Friday after water samples taken on July 10 and 11 were found to be safe.
Clark said he was able to isolate the problem to a house on 2nd Street, which had an outdoor bucket that had animal waste in it.
“It was one house,” Clark said. “I took the sample at that house and they had an old-timey wash tub. After I took the sample, it came back bad with E. coli. I went down to his house and talked to him and come to find out, his dog and his cats use that as their bathroom. So undoubtedly I got some of that on my hands when I took the top off the tub.”
Clark said the first sample was found to contain E.
coli. Another sample collected on July 2 was negative for E coli, but tested positive for total coliform bacteria. The problem has since been fixed and the water is safe to drink.
“The samples upstream and downstream were good,” Clark said. “And we’ve resampled it and it is clear. So it was just that house. The Health Department came in and did chlorine samples and I had ample chlorine — plenty.
They said we totally have our water in good shape.
We just got a bad sample.
It didn’t get in the water. It got in between me getting the sample and the hydrant.”
Clark has come under criticism
who want to know why Clark is still on the job.
“You’ve got to understand that people have a lot of concerns,” Councilman Robert Udell said at the July City Council meeting.
“We need some answers.”
Resident Vanessa Green said the community no longer trusts Clark and has doubts about whether their water is safe.
“A lot of people are against him being back here,” Green said. “How do we trust him after what happened? How are we supposed to know the water is safe when he lied the first time? I work for the Post Office. If I do that, they are going to walk me out the door. The same thing should be happening to him. What are you going to do about the situation?
I want to know about that situation. My tax dollars are paying him. He should be walked out the door because we can’t trust him.”
Mayor Sherman Smith assured residents that the water is safe. The water is tested every month by the Health Department and the city sends out water quality reports along with the water bill.
“I don’t know what else I have to do to prove the water is safe,” Smith said.
“They have never had any problems with Earle water before. They did not have any reservations as to whether our water is safe because we always have good water and passed all our compliances.”
Smith admitted that the crisis in the water department is the biggest mess he has had to deal with in 25 years as mayor, but said they are working through the problems.
“My number one priority is to make sure Earle water department doesn’t go under,” Smith said. “I get a letter every day from the Health Department or ADEQ about this, this, and this. I need a licensed person to keep in compliance.
We will have time to deal with Danny Clark and all that other stuff. But we’ve got to stay focused to meet these compliances.”
Smith said he needs Clark’s license and experience to get the water department straightened out with the state.
“He’s already pulled us out of several non-compliances since he’s been back,” Smith said. “I am handling this the best way I know how. Now give me a chance to work the other things out.”