Jackson trash ruling: Judge gives mayor pathway to keeping Richard’s contract

Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 6:12 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s office is claiming victory Thursday following a ruling handed down by special appointed Judge Jess Dickinson.

Thursday, Dickinson ruled that the mayor, not the council, had the authority to negotiate and execute contracts and that only the mayor may negotiate a contract for solid waste disposal on behalf of the capital city.

The judge also ruled that for an emergency contract to be binding, the city council must sign off on it under provisions of Mississippi emergency management law.

“Whether a contract binding the city of Jackson for solid waste disposal is negotiated through the RFP process or pursuant to emergency authority under Miss. Code Section... the contract is not a binding contract that is enforceable against the city of Jackson unless and until it has been properly approved by the council.”

However, a footnote in the five-page ruling appears to give the mayor the ability to get past the council in seeing an emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal Inc. go forward.

“There does exist a possible exception not presented in this case thus far, where the council rejects an emergency contract presented by the mayor, the mayor exercises his veto of the rejection, and the council overrides the veto,” Dickinson wrote. “The mayor would then have the option of engaging the judicial system, claiming the council was arbitrary and capricious in overriding the veto.”

The only thing is, the council likely doesn’t have the votes to override any mayor’s veto related to the Richard’s contract.

The council has narrowly rejected Richard’s each time it has been brought up for a vote, first on a 2-4-1 vote and then again on a 3-3-1 vote. Five votes are needed to override a veto.

In March, the council voted down two motions to ratify emergency proposals with Richard’s, each on 4-1-1 votes.

However, in those cases, the motions were introduced by a council member, not the mayor. In his ruling, Dickinson says only the mayor can introduce emergency contracts for consideration.

Judge appears to give mayor a way to keep Richard's emergency contract in place, even without...
Judge appears to give mayor a way to keep Richard's emergency contract in place, even without the council's full support.(WLBT)

Translated, barring any emergency legal actions taken late Thursday or very early Friday, officials in the mayor’s office say Richard’s will begin hauling waste for the city Friday morning and will be in place for at least the next year.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote, though, disagrees, saying the lawsuit clearly states that the Richard’s contract is not valid unless it’s signed off on by the legislative body.

“We don’t have a contract right now. It still has to be approved by the council and it has not,” he said. “I’m anxious to get a contract we can support.”

As for the footnote providing Lumumba with a path forward? “The main thing is the main thing, not some obscure footnote that would keep the mayor from having to get four votes,” he said. “The reason democracy works is because everybody gets a say. He wants to do every trick he can to keep the council from getting a say.”

“That’s not good government. That’s bad government.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba filed suit against the Jackson City Council on March 9, a day after it voted to end his state of emergency on garbage collections and after it voted twice to reject a one-year emergency contract with Richard’s.

Dickinson also ruled the council has no authority to amend the mayor’s executive orders related to emergencies, only to approve or reject them. He also opined that only the city’s chief executive has the authority to find independent contractors and vendors to provide emergency services.

The judge did not address whether the mayor’s emergency proclamation was valid or whether trash collections qualified as a local emergency under state statute.

“If an emergency did exist - and continue to exist - then the mayor could have, and may still, negotiate and tender a relevant contract to the council for approval without the necessity of complying with the so-called RFP (request for proposals) requirements found in Miss. Code... Conversely, if an emergency did not, or does not exist, then the mayor may only present to the council for approval a contract produced through the RFP process.”

The city’s emergency contract with Waste Management expires at midnight.

The mayor has notified Waste Management that it will not be paid for picking up trash tomorrow, while some council members are seeking a temporary restraining order against Richard’s.

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