Jackson council OKs mayor’s pick for CAO, public works director amid public works reorganization

Mayor Lumumba previously announced Louis Wright to serve as chief administrative officer. The...
Mayor Lumumba previously announced Louis Wright to serve as chief administrative officer. The council approved his appointment Thursday.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 5:34 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is four steps closer to filling out his cabinet, following recent votes by the Jackson City Council.

Thursday, the council approved his picks for chief administrative officer, director of administration, public works director and director of planning.

CAO Louis Wright, Director of Administration Laa Wanda Horton and Public Works Director Marlin King were approved on unanimous votes. Director of Planning Jordan Hillman was approved on a 4-2 vote in her second confirmation as planning director.

Ward Six Councilman Aaron Banks said he voted against Hillman following a recent town hall in his ward.

“A large part of the discussion was some of the disappointments in the area,” he said, speaking to Hillman following the vote. “You’ve done a tremendous job when it comes to the planning side. But the things people see every day should be prioritized more.”

For her part, Hillman touted the progress her office has made, including conducting a route study for JTRAN. The routes for the city’s transit system have not been modified in about three decades.

Hillman told the council she also wants to beef up code enforcement and establish a neighborhood planning unit to provide additional resources to communities. She also is interested in creating up a neighborhood academy, to teach residents about code enforcement and other city processes.

King, meanwhile, will oversee a public works department going through a major reorganization. The reorganization was previously proposed by City Engineer Charles Williams. It would divide the department into multiple divisions with one person each over facilities and administrative functions, capital improvements, and water/sewer business administration.

“Aligning it that way allows people to work best in their skillsets,” Lumumba said. “That’s not to say that Marlin couldn’t handle all that. But the multitude of challenges we have in public works requires we put a more robust team to addressing that.”

King, who has not worked in municipal public works before, said he wants to focus on obtaining accreditation from the American Public Works Association. He also wants to make the department more proactive rather than reactive.

He and city leaders have many challenges ahead of them. Public Works is short more than 100 employees across the department. The city also has more than a billion dollars in infrastructure needs but doesn’t have nearly enough money to address them.

Tuesday, Williams told the council the department had 45 vacancies in its garage, facilities, and paved streets divisions, as well as 65 vacancies in its water/sewer division and eight in its sanitation division.

Part of the problem, he said, was the low pay. “When I first got here, we had almost 75 people in water/sewer,” he said. “We’re never going to get back to 75. But if you increase salaries and get skilled labor that understands how to operate equipment... you wouldn’t necessarily need 75 people. If you have 35, the 35 would be a good 35.”

Jackson is currently conducting two studies that could help address those vacancies.

In January, the council brought on AJA Management and Technical Services to draw up a restructuring plan for public works. The scope of the work included meeting with the director and deputy directors to assess needs and then meet with field staff to “gain input and insight on operational processes and procedures,” according to a copy of the contract.

The contract also included evaluating department positions to compare job performance to current job descriptions and evaluating wage structures.

Meanwhile, the administration brought on Baker Tilly to conduct a pay study for the entire city.

As part of one of those studies, King said employees are being asked to complete a survey to help better determine their job titles, their responsibilities, and what their pay should be. So far, 200 employees in the department have failed to complete it.

The city also is facing more than a billion dollars in federally mandated infrastructure needs. Jackson is still working to comply with a 2012 sewer consent decree, which mandates an estimated $945 million in investments to bring its sewer system into compliance with the federal water quality laws. Jackson is facing another $170 million as part of a water administrative order handed down by the EPA.

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