Trash controversy: Lumumba seeking court opinion on authority to veto council ‘no’ vote

Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 1:22 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A question answered and then un-answered by a special appointed judge in the mayor’s suit against the Jackson City Council is at the heart of a new lawsuit filed by Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba in Hinds County Circuit Court.

Monday, Lumumba filed the suit seeking to find out whether he has the authority to veto a council’s decision to vote down an item.

The mayor also is asking whether a negative vote “constitutes an official action of the council” and “whether a vote to reject a contract submitted by the mayor is an ordinance that has been adopted by the council.”

Lumumba spoke about the suit, as well as Judge Jess Dickinson’s decision to vacate his initial ruling at his weekly press conference on Monday.

He says opponents of the Richard’s contract shouldn’t claim victory just yet.

“His (Dickinson’s) final order merely clarified that he didn’t believe it was his prerogative... to weigh in on that issue because he didn’t believe that issue was before him,” he said. “So, all of the rhetoric to say that his opinion changes things and we won... I don’t know who we are. The only winners and losers in my opinion are the residents of Jackson. And we must be focused on what is in the best interest of the residents of Jackson.”

The suit is the latest wrinkle in the trash controversy that has gone on for months and resulted in multiple lawsuits.

It comes just days after the mayor vetoed the council’s 4-3 vote to reject an emergency one-year waste-hauling contract with Richard’s Disposal and as the New Orleans-based firm continued to pick up trash in the capital city.

Whether the mayor could veto the council’s rejection of the contract has sparked debate among city leaders.

Some council members argue that the mayor can’t veto something that is killed by the council.

Lumumba, though, pointed to a March 31 ruling handed down by Justice Jess Dickinson, a judge appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to oversee the case.

The March 31 ruling included a footnote saying the mayor could veto a contract rejected by council members, the council could override the veto and he could file an additional suit.

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)

However, Dickinson later vacated that opinion and replaced it with a new one deleting the footnote in question.

“The different positions between the parties have resulted in extreme discord between the executive and legislative branches of city government, which necessitates immediate judicial intervention,” attorneys for the mayor wrote.

Lumumba, meanwhile, says that the administration and Richard’s are still operating under the law. The mayor awarded an emergency contract to Richard’s on Feb. 17, the same day he issued an emergency declaration on garbage collections. Richard’s received a notice to proceed on March 8.

Some saw the mayor’s decision to issue the emergency as a way to sidestep the council’s role in awarding contracts. Prior to issuing the state of emergency, the council twice voted down proposals to award Richard’s a six-year hauling agreement, prompting the mayor to issue the declaration.

The council later lifted the emergency declaration and again voted down Richard’s. Those votes, though, were not for six-year agreements, but for a one-year emergency deal with the firm.

Following those votes, Lumumba filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court seeking clarification on contract law.

Dickinson handed down his ruling last week, saying that the council did have to sign off on contracts for them to be valid.

However, he also included a footnote suggesting Lumumba could use the veto power if the seven-member legislative body voted down his agreement.

The former supreme court justice, though, was never asked questions about veto questions, and in his new ruling, said he should have never offered his insight on the matter.

“I see Judge Dickinson as an academician, Lumumba said Monday. “And simply what that means is he is scholarly as it... pertains to the law. And so he did make reference to the fact that someone could make the argument... (on) what the word ‘adopt’ means. And if someone wants to dispute it, then it is incumbent upon them to seek the proper legal channels in order to do that.”

Footnote aside, Lumumba maintains his decision to veto the council’s Friday vote was legal and that he and Richard’s are operating under the law.

“When it comes to the final decision of the judge, that is in no way contradiction to the action that we took, and we are still operating under the law. In fact, what the judge did prior to his final decision, was merely point to the law, so that we could have clarification as to the veto rights of the mayor.”

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