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Jackson City Council rejects trash contract on 3-3-1 vote

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Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 1:33 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - For a second time, the Jackson City Council has voted down a proposal to bring on Richard’s Disposal to haul the city’s trash.

Tuesday, the council voted 3-3-1 to deny awarding a six-year, $50 million contract to the New Orleans-based firm.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking with the city having just two months to secure a new garbage contract before its current emergency deal with Waste Management runs out.

Voting in favor of the measure was Councilmembers Angelique Lee, Virgi Lindsay, and Brian Grizzell. Opposed were councilmen Ashby Foote, Vernon Hartley, and Kenneth Stokes. Ward Six Councilman Aaron Banks abstained.

City Attorney Catoria Martin said, based on an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, the vote failed, the abstention could not count for or against the contract, and the mayor could not break the tie.

WLBT has reached out to Martin for additional clarity on the vote and is waiting to hear back.

Lindsay, who previously voted against the proposal, said she changed her mind after meeting with Richard’s Disposal President Alvin Richard, who addressed concerns about trash pickup in the Belhaven community.

“For me personally... the money that is being talked about here today is a deciding factor,” she said.

Richard’s contract would be about $7 million cheaper over the first six years of the agreement than the next best bidder.

Foote also was concerned about the price but was more concerned about awarding a contract to a firm that received the lowest technical score during the evaluation process.

Richard’s was one of three firms that responded to the city’s RFP or request for proposals. The city issued the RFP for trash-hauling last October. Firms that responded were evaluated on a number of factors, including experience, technical proposal, references, minority and female business participation, and cost.

Foote said Richard’s scored lowest in every other category aside from cost.

“My understanding is that the vendor we’re considering now was the one that scored 46.8 percent on the ability to carry out and accomplish the task. For an expensive contract like this, with a six-year period and extensions beyond that, I have concerns,” he said.

Other companies that submitted proposals included Waste Management of Mississippi and FCC Environmental Services. Foote said the other firms scored 56.4 and 57 during the evaluation process. However, he did not know which score went with which proposal.

Public Works Director Marlin King said he did not see the numbers because he was not an evaluator but said the fact that Richard’s received the lowest score did not mean they did not have a good proposal.

“He did a phenomenal job, but the others just did a better job,” King said. “How do you weigh that? His product is good. It’s just the others were better.”

Chief of Staff Safiya Omari said Foote was focusing on the most subjective part of the evaluation process.

“It depends subjectively on how an individual viewed presentations, essentially,” she said. “As a professor for decades, I understand that one professor can grade a paper one way and another can come along and subjectively grade the paper another way.”

“They met the minimum qualifications... Those qualifications made sure that anybody being considered was capable of doing the work.”

Richard’s currently serves approximately 100,000 homes in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said he had spoken to the mayors of both cities, who assured him the firm was capable of doing the work.

Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lumumba said there also is likely a racial element preventing the council from approving the proposal.

“The first time we get into capacity is when it’s a Black vendor. And it is problematic,” he said. “The whispers that began - we need to check and monitor what leads us in the notion of the ability of someone who has been in work since 1978 before I was even born,” he said.

Richard’s is owned by Alvin Richard, an African-American.

Ward 2 Councilman Angelique Lee said bringing on Richard’s was an opportunity to bring more Black contractors to the table.

“If we’re worried about the bottom line, this is the lowest rate. If we’re worried about keeping the current contractor, we can’t afford them,” she said. “If we’re worried about capacities (and) resources, I’ve spoken with several businessmen in New Orleans and Baton Rouge who are more than satisfied with Richard’s Disposal.”

“This is an opportunity to be on the right side and (I) urge my colleagues to listen and vote correctly.”

Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley said he’s listening to his constituents when they tell him they’re satisfied with their current pickup service.

“Within the last 10 minutes, I’ve gotten texts that say, ‘what’s not broken, let’s not try to fix it,’” he said. “We want two days a week, why go into anything else?”

Hartley, the city’s former solid waste manager, said requiring trash carts would provide the city’s solid waste division with a new set of headaches.

The contract would require most residents to use a 96-gallon trash cart, which would be provided by Richard’s. The first cart would be provided to residents free of charge and would be replaced one time for free if it was lost or damaged. Additional carts would be replaced for a fee.

Several concerns about carts have been raised, including whether individuals with disabilities or senior citizens would be required to use them.

Hartley said customers already bombard solid waste with questions about recycling, litter pickup, and the like. The carts would mean additional questions. “My cart is broken. How do I get it replaced? My cart is missing. When do I get another one?” he said. “To a section that is already maxed out, we’re adding one more moving detail... That adds more complexity. As for someone who has been in that position, I’m looking for the why. Why is this a solution that is looking for a problem?”

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who listened to the meeting from outside of council chambers due to the large number of people gathered there, also questioned the requirement for carts.

“I think we don’t need to have these garbage cans,” he said. “People don’t want them in my ward and people don’t want them in the city.”

It was unclear the city’s next step. Richard’s has twice been voted down, which would typically mean that the proposal could not be brought up for another vote within a year.

However, it was not known if the current order could be brought forward again because it had been modified from the previous one that was voted down.

A copy of the contract was not included in the council packet online.

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