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Judge hopes to decide Jackson’s garbage lawsuit by end of March

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 5:38 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Special Judge Jess Dickinson said he’d like to make a decision in Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s suit against the Jackson City Council by the end of the month.

A hearing in Chokwe A. Lumumba v. the City Council of Jackson, Miss. was held Monday.

Following nearly two hours of discussion, Dickinson said he would decide on interventions in the case by Tuesday.

Click here to watch.

Meanwhile, the judge asked attorneys to determine by the end of the week whether they would like Dickinson to make a decision in the case based on agreed evidence and arguments already in place, or whether they would like the case to go to trial.

The hearing comes weeks after the mayor filed suit against the council over its efforts to block his emergency order and an emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal. It also comes as the city’s current emergency contract for waste hauling expires on March 31.

“I just don’t see the need to have a big trial if all we have is a legal dispute that requires me to look at the statutes and the documents to make a determination (on) what the legal rights of the parties are,” Dickinson said. “I don’t see that we need a court reporter and to call witnesses... you can just simply submit documents by agreement unless some of you disagree the documents are valid.”

Lumumba filed suit earlier this month asking the court to decide whether the council has the authority to negotiate or execute contracts for solid waste and whether it has the authority to amend the mayor’s recent executive order over garbage collections.

Dickinson was appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to preside over the case after all four Hinds County chancery judges recused themselves.

Waste Management, Richard’s Disposal, and Waste Disposal Services, a subcontractor for Waste Management, have all filed motions to intervene in the matter.

Much of the discussion during Monday’s roughly two-hour hearing centered around whether the motions to intervene should be dismissed.

Monday, attorneys for the mayor filed a response to the motions to intervene, saying that the companies did not have the right to intervene in the suit because their claims were solely based on economic interests.

Lumumba’s representatives further argued that the interests of Waste Management and Richard’s Disposal are adequately represented by the mayor and the council.

Waste Management is asking the court to direct the mayor “to follow his obligations under statute, city ordinances, and the RFP, and engage in good faith negotiations pursuant to the RFP for a six-year term.”

The city issued a request for proposals for garbage collections in October. Three firms, Waste Management of Mississippi, Richard’s Disposal, and FCC Environmental Services, responded.

Lumumba entered into negotiations with the New Orleans-based Richard’s, after the firm received the top score during the evaluation process for twice-a-week collections with required trash carts.

The council twice voted down that proposal. The mayor then declared a state of emergency on garbage collections and inked a one-year emergency deal with Richard’s.

Waste Management argues that rather than issue the state of emergency, he should have entered into talks with them. Waste Management received the second-highest score for twice-weekly collections with a cart.

“What we have here is a situation where the applicable statutes and the law don’t answer the questions before the court. The mayor is supposed to recommend a contract and the council approves it. But here, we have a history of the mayor recommending contracts and the council not approving those,” said Waste Management Attorney Chase Bryan told the court. “When the mayor has not gotten his way, he created manufactured (emergency) situations. We’ve seen this movie before. We (did) it six months ago.”

The motion to intervene for Richard’s asks for a declaratory judgment that the mayor’s emergency order was in place until March 8, that the mayor had the authority to enter into an emergency contract with Richard’s during that time, that the mayor’s notice to proceed was still in effect and that the Feb. 17 emergency contract “is a valid and binding contract.”

“Our interest is two-fold. By action of the council, the council has denied Richard’s a statutory right to the contract,” said Gloria Green, an attorney for Richard’s. “Much has been said about the right of the council to approve or disapprove of a contract. We don’t disagree. Our position is the council’s right to (reject) is not unfettered. At no point in time has the council articulated any reason why Richard’s should be denied (a) contract.”

The council has expressed concerns, including requirements for trash carts, as well as the fact that Richard’s scored lower in all categories except price when compared to its two competitors.

The city council ended Lumumba’s emergency order on March 8. Prior to that, the council voted to leave the emergency order in place but struck provisions bringing on Richard’s Disposal.

Dickinson, though, asked numerous questions on why the mayor wanted the motions to intervene to be tossed. He also questioned Lumumba’s arguments that the motions to intervene could not be filed based on economic interests.

Jessica Ayers, an attorney for Lumumba, said the mayor’s request was related to the rights and legal authorities of the governing bodies of Jackson - the mayor and council. “It’s not a request to determine whether the contract was valid, but solely for the court to determine what role the city of Jackson has in regard to declaring a local emergency,” she said, adding that their motions to intervene “places the necessary burden of their interests on the mayor and council.”

Dickinson understood the argument but said his decision would ultimately determine who would receive the city’s waste-hauling business. “The result of the court’s determination of that issue will decide whether or not that contract is a valid contract or it’s not,” he said. “Let’s just say we go through the steps and I issue an opinion, and I say, ‘the mayor prevails’... Richard’s has a contract.”

The judge also asked why the city attorney was not representing the mayor in the case. City Attorney Catoria Martin said her office represents the city as a whole, and could not represent one governing body against another.

Meanwhile, a new legal front has been opened up, with attorneys for the mayor filing a petition for writ of mandamus in Hinds County Circuit Court, seeking the council to transcribe all of its meeting minutes since September 2021 and to present them to the mayor within 24 hours.

The argument is the mayor cannot perform his duties related to the trash contract “without being presented the minutes.”

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