Jackson’s trash emergency remains in place; future of trash collections still in limbo

Jackson City Council
Jackson City Council(WLBT)
Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 1:59 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - More fireworks erupted at a special Jackson City Council meeting Thursday when members voted to keep the mayor’s emergency order on trash collections in place but removed a part of the order referencing a one-year emergency contract the mayor had entered into with Richard’s Disposal to pick up residents’ trash starting April 1.

The council initially voted to do away with the mayor’s emergency declaration, with the city attorney agreeing to the decision, saying the emergency no longer existed because an emergency contract was in place.

However, after council members realized that the decision would have affirmed Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba to award Richard’s a one-year deal, the council narrowly voted to amend the order to remove references to the Richard’s contract and re-vote.

The amended version, which included keeping the current waste-hauler in place for another year, was approved on a 4-3 vote.

Voting in favor of the amended ordinance were Councilmen Ashby Foote, Aaron Banks, Vernon Hartley, and Kenneth Stokes. Opposed were Council members Virgi Lindsay, Angelique Lee, and Brian Grizzell.

The council took no action on the Richard’s contract itself. And it’s unclear if the vote nullifies the Richard’s agreement that the mayor entered into earlier this month.

Banks initially said he wasn’t going to support the mayor’s emergency order because he had not seen Richard’s contract. He initially offered an amendment to extend the state of emergency, remove references to Richard’s from the declaration and replace the firm with Waste Management.

Chief of Staff Safiya Omari and members of the Jackson City Council get into a heated argument over who will pick up your trash.

Lumumba signed an emergency declaration over garbage collections on Feb. 10. He announced the declaration a week later and said in it that he would bring on Richard’s for one-year to provide emergency collection services.

The declaration did not include a cost for that agreement and the administration has yet to provide a copy of the contract or the equal business opportunity plan to council members.

WLBT has filed an open record request for a copy of the contract. However, the request has yet to be filled.

“It’s irresponsible for me to take a blind vote over a price tag that I don’t know what it will cost,” Banks said. “I can’t vote on numbers I don’t see.”

Banks also pointed to the fact that the emergency declaration would set a bad precedent.

Prior to the mayor’s state of emergency being issued, the council twice voted down his proposal to bring on Richard’s.

“What concerns me is the precedent is set where the council’s vote can be bypassed by declaring an emergency,” he said.

Martin also pointed to precedent, saying the council agreed last September that only the mayor could enter into and negotiate contracts.

An internal memo obtained by 3 On Your Side from attorney Roy Campbell to the council backs up Martin’s claims.

Recently, the council approved bringing on an independent attorney to determine whether Martin had a conflict of interest by suggesting the council approve Richard’s contract.

In a Feb. 10 memo, Campbell told the council Martin “has not demonstrated any conflict of interest.”

He also said that the city’s governing authorities consist of the mayor and the council, but only the mayor could negotiate and recommend a contract for approval. Campbell went on to say that the council did not even have the authority to bring on its own independent legal representation.

Memo advising the council on legal findings related to the city's October trash RFP.
Memo advising the council on legal findings related to the city's October trash RFP.(WLBT)

Banks also questioned whether the current provider would be better situated to provide emergency pick-ups, because they are already located here, already have trucks here, and have already mobilized.

Jackson is currently in a six-month emergency agreement with Waste Management. The city entered into that contract on September 30, after talks to bring on a new waste-hauler fell through.

The agreement expires on March 31.

“We have a current provider that is picking up trash right now. I think the emergency means that you have trash piled up and stacked up,” he said. “You entered into a contract with somebody that doesn’t have trucks here, doesn’t have a building here, and doesn’t have anything right now, and the mayor is saying there is an emergency.”

Alvin Richard, the founder of the New Orleans-based Richard’s Disposal, sent a letter to the city in January saying the council needed to approve the agreement that month in order for him to be able to mobilize when Waste Management’s contract ran out.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes and Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley, meanwhile, said they were concerned that the mayor’s emergency order would lead to a lawsuit.

In a February 18 letter to the council, Waste Management attorney Chase Bryan said the company was willing to “pursue all available remedies” allowed under state law if the mayor continued to subvert the RFP process.

RFPs are requests for proposals. An RFP is issued by a city seeking professional services, such as trash hauling.

Jackson issued a new RFP for trash-hauling in October. Three firms responded to the request and were asked to submit proposals to provide once-a-week and twice-a-week pickups, both with and without garbage carts.

Richard’s received the highest score for the twice-a-week option with carts. Waste Management received the second-highest score during the proposal evaluation process.

Bryan said the mayor should have entered into negotiations with his client after the council turned down Richard’s.

“Ms. Martin, through this entire process, you have guided and given your opinions on the (legal) threat by Richard’s Disposal... My concern is that we have not heard any concern of legal threat by one of the largest waste haulers in the country, and an international waste hauler,” Hartley said. “Yet a company bidding out of Louisiana, that has a partial amount of Louisiana’s waste, presents all types of legal harm to the city.”

Hartley was speaking to City Attorney Catoria Martin.

Martin told the council that Waste Management didn’t have a leg to stand on.

“The only cause of action for vendors is a bill of exceptions, to a losing vendor,” she said. “Waste Management has not lost yet. So, if you look at my legal advice being put out there... in my opinion (Waste Management) has no claim against the city.”

“Should the council vote to authorize a contract with Richard’s Disposal, Waste Management would have the right at that time to appeal through a bill of exceptions.”

Dr. Safiya Omari, the mayor’s chief of staff, said some council members were doing everything they could to keep Waste Management in place.

“When you talk about affordability, the RFP results showed that Richard’s was the lowest bidder. They won the bid. That’s a fact. You can shake your head, but it’s a fact,” she said. “The bottom line here is maybe you’re not trying to fight the mayor, but you are trying to subvert the process of bidding... the procurement process itself, which we followed, which you have received legal advice regarding... so I don’t know any other way to see this.”

The next waste-hauling contract would be for six years, with four one-year extensions. During the life of the contract, Richard’s would be about $12 million cheaper than the next lowest bidder.

“You voted not to continue the emergency, then you realized that wouldn’t get you your way... which is to have Waste Management there. Then you did another amendment,” she added. “You figured out that amendment wouldn’t work... then you started going through the document making changes.”

The council approved the initial ordinance doing away with the state of emergency on a 4-1-2 vote. Banks and Hartley abstained, while Stokes voted against it.

Banks later made a motion to amend the order, put the emergency back in place, and strike language related to the Richard’s contract. The amendment and the revised order were approved on 4-3 votes.

Stokes attempted to call to question as Omari was speaking.

“I’ve got to. You just keep talking and we’re sick and tired of it... I’m a councilman. Nobody elected you to (expletive),” he said.

“Stop it,” Council President Lindsay said, banging her gavel. “Enough. Enough. We are not going to do this.”

“That’s the kind of disrespect...” Omari said.

“You’re talking to councilmen like we boys,” Stokes said. “You weren’t elected.”

“Stop. Please y’all,” Lindsay said. “This is not good for our city. This is not good for anybody.”

Martin advised the council that the vote was akin to recommending the mayor go with Waste Management rather than Richard’s. “The council agreed through its minutes that (it) does not have the authority to negotiate contractual agreements,” she said, referring to minutes from the council’s September 30, 2021 meeting. “The mayor has sole discretion on which vendor he can negotiate with for an emergency agreement. He has chosen to negotiate with Richard’s Disposal.”

Following the meeting, Lindsay said she was concerned the vote would open up the city to potential litigation.

“What the intent of the amendment that was made by Mr. Banks today was to remove Richard’s Disposal’s contract, an emergency contract the mayor signed, and to insert that we use our current provider during this time,” she said. “I’m going to have to get legal advice on what this all means and where we are.”

Mayor Lumumba released this statement Thursday afternoon:

Regretfully, today was another example of continuous attempts of a a slim majority of City Council members to circumvent the procurement process and allow our current garbage collection vendor, Waste Management, to maintain a contract that they lost in a legitimate bid process.

Richard’s Disposal won the garbage collection bid. In 99% of cases, the council abides by this well-established and routine practice, where the top bid is selected. But when it comes to Waste Management, who lost out in two separate bidding processes, a majority of the council seems uninterested in the very real ramifications of their decision.

Today, they attempted to circumvent the emergency procurement process when they realized that Richard’s would be the emergency contractor. Then they changed their mind and voted to continue the emergency and to amend the order to replace Richard’s Disposal with Waste Management. This almost comical attempt to continue Waste Management’s service clearly crossed the line of separation of powers.

It is unclear why these council members are so bound and determined to contract with Waste Management. What is clear is that Richard’s Disposal won the bid with a proposal that would save the City millions of dollars over the next 6 years. What also remains clear is that Mayor Lumumba retains the right to procure contracts and he would be violating state statute by allowing council members to make those decide and without any compelling reasons. Mayor Lumumba remains totally committed to acting in the best interest of the City of Jackson.

The council should know better. They do know better and the facts and the law are not on their side.

Original text from the emergency order shows the mayor would have brought on Richard's Disposal...
Original text from the emergency order shows the mayor would have brought on Richard's Disposal for a one-year term.(WLBT)

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