Jackson to pay consultant $244k to help restructure public works

The Stay Safe Jackson order does not end until June 3rd.
The Stay Safe Jackson order does not end until June 3rd.(WLBT)
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 12:48 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A private consultant will help the city of Jackson map out the future of its public works department.

On Tuesday, the city council approved a $244,270 contract with AJA Management and Technical Services to develop a restructuring plan for public works.

The measure was approved on a 5-1 vote, with Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote voting against the measure.

“I philosophically disagree with hiring outside consultants,” he said, saying that he believes the funds could be better used to hire additional personnel for the department.

“For the last four years, the public works director has played the role of a one-armed paper hanger … That’s why I think more personnel would be critically helpful in (him) doing his job.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, though, said the AJA contract will help the public works director to do just that.

“To him to effectively staff up and do the job, there needs to be a better understanding of the condition of his department,” he said. “It’s not just the question of needing more people but being more efficient by putting people in the right places.”

The council approved the request at the behest of Public Works Director Charles Williams.

“One of the items discussed at my confirmation was that we wanted to take a very thorough look at the department to see where the deficiencies are,” Williams told the council.

“This is not a study. This is a true implementation plan. Once we do the assessment, we will come back and say, ‘this is what we need to move (the department) to the next level.’”

The contract will be for 18 weeks and is being funded from the department’s use tax.

The scope of work includes meeting with the director and deputy public works directors to assess needs, and then meet with field staff as needed to “gain input and insight on operational processes and procedures,” according to a copy of the contract.

AJA will then evaluate department positions by comparing job performance with actual job descriptions, versus the performance required by employees to meet customer needs.

The firm will also evaluate salary and wage structures, as well as draw up new job descriptions to help the department attract the workers needed, the contract states.

Based on the data collected, AJA will “identify up to three feasible alternatives to improve the department’s effectiveness,” according to contract terms.

Williams said the restructuring could help the city address numerous shortages, as well as help the city bring on the experienced workers needed to help Jackson deal with compliance issues, consent decrees and the like.

“We (also) need more employees at the bottom level,” he said. “In order for us to get the sewer department back up, we need about 50 employees. We have about a third of that.”

Williams said the lack of employees means that Jackson has to bring on private contractors for major projects that other cities could handle in-house.

“Our crews can maintain anything from 12 inches down. Anything above that, we’re going to need contractual assistance,” he said. “Why? Because we don’t have the expertise and experience needed to do the work.”

AJA was chosen, in part, because of the firm’s experience in dealing with county and municipal governments.

Andrew Jenkins, the founder of AJA, previously served as public works director for Fulton Co., Ga., and for Hinds County. Jerriot Smash, a program manager with AJA, is former public works director for the city of Jackson.

AJA also has worked alongside Waggoner Engineering as program manager overseeing the city’s $945 million sewer consent decree.

“They understand some of the challenges we are currently facing in the department,” Williams said. “They can lend some very good experience and understanding in how we need to align the department.”

Wiliams hopes a plan can be presented to the council and mayor in time for the budget talks this summer.

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