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‘No emergency exists’ | Jackson City Council shuts down mayor’s state of emergency

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 2:10 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s state of emergency on garbage collections has been rescinded, but the future of garbage service in Jackson is still in limbo.

Wednesday, the council voted 4-2 to rescind the mayor’s emergency declaration, despite Lumumba’s protests.

The council also voted 4-2 to hire independent counsel to help them maneuver during the garbage emergency.

Voting in favor of the measures were Councilmembers Virgi Lindsay, Ashby Foote, Aaron Banks, and Vernon Hartley. Opposed were Councilmembers Angelique Lee and Brian Grizzell.

Lindsay, who represents Ward 7, called a press conference hours after the vote, where she read a statement saying “no emergency exists.”

“The current vendor that has provided solid waste collection services to the decades has offered to continue those same services at least through the month of October at the same rate specified in the existing contract,” she read. “The council is waiting on the mayor to determine whether he will accept that proposal.”

The vote came days after the mayor declared the state of emergency and weeks after council members voted down the mayor’s proposal to bring on FCC Environmental Services.

Meanwhile, the city’s current contract with Waste Management runs out on September 30.

Lumumba told the council if the declaration was removed, the city’s trash problem was on them.

“I want to make it clear to the residents of Jackson if this emergency is rescinded, it is on the council to determine how the trash is picked up,” he said. “At the end of this contract, I want the council to tell residents how trash is picked up.”

He said states of emergency over garbage collections are not unusual, with both Memphis and New Orleans having emergency declarations in place.

The council met with members of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP Tuesday during an executive session.

Lee, who represents Ward 2, voted down the attorneys, in part, because she saw representatives from the firm speaking to Waste Management.

“I noticed they were talking outside in the hallway with Waste Management and that concerned me,” Lee said. “I want to have that on the record, that I was concerned.”

Lee could not be reached for a follow-up comment.

Details of why Jackson was bringing on Bradley Arant were not discussed.

The council went into executive session on Tuesday but excluded bringing in the mayor or his legal staff.

When Lumumba asked if they could explain any potential conflict the city attorney’s office would have, Council President Lindsay declined to answer.

“I can’t comment on that,” she said.

The mayor also again attempted to explain his rationale for declaring a state of emergency, and compared it to the one he previously put in place in anticipation of Hurricane Ida.

“I declared an emergency because I wanted residents to be prepared,” he said. “The administration tried our best to negotiate a contract to move us forward and we received notice from Waste Management they were unwilling to continue negotiations in that way.”

Lumumba said he tried twice to bring forward a contract with FCC Environmental Services, both of which were voted down by the council.

FCC was one of three firms to answer the city’s request for proposals for residential garbage collection.

The firm received the highest scores during the bid evaluation contract.

However, documents obtained by WLBT show that FCC did not have the lowest-priced bid when costs for the required trash cans were included.

Lumumba said he then tried to negotiate an agreement with Waste Management, the city’s current service provider, but Waste Management refused to offer Jackson a one-year option for service.

In an August 30 letter, Waste Management said it did not have to provide a one-year option, because the RFP only requested a six-year option.

He said administration officials also reached out to the third-highest bidder, but that firm said they didn’t have the capacity to meet Jackson’s needs.

Under the state of emergency, Lumumba was planning to hire a group called National Waste United, LLC. Members of the group include Socrates Garrett Enterprises, Enviromax Recycling LLC, SRS, Inc., Kingdom Transportation & Trucking LLC and Cooper & Associates LLC.

According to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Website, the firm was formed on September 20. Its registered agent is Dwayne Pickett of Crystal Springs. However, a partial copy of the contract obtained by WLBT shows that the city had drawn up its contract with National Waste on September 17.

City of Jackson draws up contract for National Waste on September 17, days before the company...
City of Jackson draws up contract for National Waste on September 17, days before the company was formed, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office.(WLBT)

Under terms of the deal, National Waste would be in place for six months, with the contract commencing on October 1 and ending on March 31, 2022. According to the agreement, the parties, upon mutual consent, could extend the agreement for a successive period “until such time as the necessity to collect residential solid waste, yard debris, and bulky items on an emergency basis ceases.”

Terms of the contract show that the city would pay the firm $15 per residential unit per month and a mobilization fee of $750,000.

By comparison, the Waste Management proposal rejected by the mayor would have cost the city a little more than $13 a month per household.

Meanwhile, the mayor again asked the council to hear about his selection for emergency trash pickup. Again, the council denied that request.

“The contract has not come before us and I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Lindsay said. “We have not seen anything.”

Lumumba said the council’s argument was convenient. “The council uses that every chance they get. Yet here you have on the agenda from yesterday a contract that is even created - a contract that wasn’t even completely negotiated with the administration. Yet, you’re prepared to give a blank check to a company because of those relationships.”

“It becomes an awfully cozy and convenient argument when it works in your favor,” he said.

The agenda for the council’s Tuesday meeting included bringing on Waste Management for another six years. No action was taken and no discussion was held on that item.

Lumumba has mentioned council relationships with Waste Management but has yet to specify what relationships members have with the company. Tuesday, he said Councilman Aaron Banks sounded like one of Waste Management’s attorneys during their discussion.

Banks declined to speak to the mayor’s comments following that meeting.

The mayor still questions why council members voted down the FCC contract. “They just summarily dismissed it because they did not want that vendor, a vendor, which is highly decorated and awarded throughout the nation, in fact, internationally decorated,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting. “And I still want to know, what is the reason against that company?”

Lumumba also contends the council is not following state statute in regard to rescinding the emergency, which he said the legislative body cannot do until its next regularly scheduled meeting.

The meeting held Wednesday was a special called meeting.

“When you call an emergency, what the law says, is that you present that emergency for ratification at the first regularly scheduled meeting. In fact, next Tuesday isn’t the first regularly scheduled meeting because that is what we call a special council meeting and we’ve been doing it in the midst of the pandemic, because the regular meeting would happen at 6 p.m.”

“We’ve been calling special meetings because we’ve advised that this work better when we don’t want public comment and we’re trying to work for the safety of everyone.”

Said Lumumba, “Hiding something is voting for a contract that hasn’t been seen or hasn’t been created.”

Under state statute, the council cannot present contracts for approval. Contracts must come from the executive branch.

Banks, though, said the order that appeared on Tuesday’s agenda was not an attempt to steer a contract, but an attempt to get the mayor to follow the RFP process.

“It was an order that says you have to sign according to the RFP process, sign a contract with somebody, but do it according to the RFP process before the deadline,” he said. “Before we are at risk.”

He said the mayor could have vetoed the item if the council voted to approve it, and it would take a 5-vote supermajority to override it.

“We got other issues going on in the city right now... We got people (who have) sewer going into their houses, water problems, and we’re sitting here taking all this time over a garbage contract, instead of taking the time to really talk and really come together to hash out issues so that we can move forward,” he said.

“FCC can’t come back. There are three responders to the RFP. According to state law, he’s got to deal with the two responders,” he said. “And you can’t make up an emergency just to deal with somebody else... Let’s calm down. Let’s stick to the facts. And let’s make sure that we’re all comfortable.”

Ward Four Councilman Brian Grizzell said he believed the council should re-think rescinding the mayor’s order.

“I honestly think we are overstepping as a legislative branch and overreaching into some aspects that fall on the executive branch,” he said.

Lee, meanwhile, agrees with the mayor that Jackson is facing a crisis. “If we don’t have trash picked up at the end of this month, to me, that constitutes a state of emergency.”

A full copy of the National Waste contract is shown below.

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