After a little more than five months, Polk County’s Recycling Center will again see changes after its top employee was removed from his post Friday, July 5. 

Polk County Presiding Commissioner Shannon Hancock confirmed Monday, July 8, the county fired recycling center manager Justin Barnhouse last week. 

Barnhouse mug

Barnhouse

Barnhouse had managed the center since January, when he replaced Big Dog Recycling owner and operator Robert Meredith, who had led the center since 2013 as part of a contract with the county and City of Bolivar. 

The recycling center will also shorten its Saturday hours to 8:30 a.m. to noon, but keep its Thursday and Friday hours the same. 

Recycling center

The Polk County Recycling Center is under new management after the commission terminated Justin Barnhouse and hired Ben Lee. Saturday hours will be shortened to 8:30 a.m. to noon.

During Monday’s regular meeting, Barnhouse, County Clerk Melinda Robertson and commissioners Kyle Legan and Rex Austin discussed the termination. 

“By Shannon’s words, I was told there were numerous, numerous complaints,” Barnhouse said. “Well, I only know of the one I read a week ago.”

Hancock was out of town during Monday’s meeting but told the BH-FP over the phone that commissioners opted not to vote on the matter Friday. 

“We don’t vote on firing,” he said, adding, however, “It was a unanimous decision.”

Hancock declined to give further details on the termination or the complaints. 

At Monday’s meeting, Barnhouse questioned the number of complaints. 

The discussion stayed cordial. 

“The numerous complaints that y’all have heard, it’s water underneath the bridge now, but I feel like I should have been told or asked or talked to, or something before it got to this point,” he told the group.

Robertson began to answer Barnhouse, but he continued. 

“There was just one. There was an email that I read last week, but I’ve been told there are numerous, numerous, numerous ones,” he said. 

Later in the discussion, when questioned, Robertson told Barnhouse the commission had received other complaints. 

“I think that they’ve gotten phone calls,” she said. “I don’t know that there were any more in writing.”

Legan and Austin directed the BH-FP to Hancock for questions about the termination.

Robertson told the BH-FP she couldn’t elaborate on the complaints, citing legal privacy protections for personnel matters. 

Moving forward

Hancock said the recycling center will remain open Thursday through Saturday, but will change its hours, opening from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays, instead of until 4:30 p.m. The center will still be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

It will continue to accept the same materials, he said. 

Additionally, the county has hired Ben Lee to manage the center, he said.

“I think he’ll be great,” the commissioner said of Lee. 

Robertson confirmed the commission made the decision to hire Lee but didn’t vote on the matter. 

I believe Shannon spoke to the other two commissioners, but they don’t normally take votes when hiring and firing personnel,” Robertson told the BH-FP via email after the meeting. “I guess if there was ever a split decision about hiring or firing, they probably would, but not normally.”

The Polk County Recycling Center is just east of the Mo. 32 and Rt. D intersection on the north side of the road. 

Recent history

According to previous BH-FP coverage, the county hired Barnhouse to manage the center in January 2019, following a roughly one-month closure.

Meredith had operated the center since 2013 — with $22,382 in funding from the county and city — but closed it in December 2018.

“He wanted a 140-percent funding increase, and we just don’t have the money to do that,” Hancock told the BH-FP at the time.

Meredith told the BH-FP in January he’d asked for an additional $31,291 to run the center, citing increasing costs and decreasing revenue.

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