Council refuses to consider $808K payment to Richard’s Disposal

Jackson City Council discusses trash emergency.
Jackson City Council discusses trash emergency.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 11:33 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The future of trash-hauling in the capital city remains in limbo, following a vote Tuesday by the Jackson City Council.

Tuesday, the council refused to pay an $808,000 claim from Richard’s Disposal Inc., for residential trash collections for the month of April.

The council voted 5-2 to amend the claims docket to remove Richard’s from the document and did not consider voting on the item separately.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who was absent from the meeting, said at a press conference announcing Juneteenth plans Tuesday afternoon that he was not “tremendously surprised by the vote.”

“I’m certain that will be an issue that will be taken up at some point in time,” he said, saying that he was more focused on the Juneteenth announcement. “I’m not spending a great deal of time worrying about that at this point.”

Deputy City Attorney Terry Williamson urged the council to pay for the contract, citing the pending litigation surrounding it.

“This contract has not been determined to be illegal. It might be determined to be illegal in the future but at this point, there is a contract in place, the work has been performed... and not paying this claim could very well result in garbage collection ceasing,” he said.

He also said that the council’s attorneys asked for Richard’s to continue collecting trash as the lawsuits are settled.

“What you asked for in the complaint was for the ‘status quo’ to continue until the matter is resolved,” he said. “That’s not only your opinion but your counsel’s opinion.”

Williamson went on to say that Richard’s was an “innocent vendor who believes they’re performing these services in good faith.”

Richard's Disposal submits claim for more than $800,000 to the city council for consideration.
Richard's Disposal submits claim for more than $800,000 to the city council for consideration.(WLBT)

Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks, though, said no contract is in place, because the council never approved it, and a judge ruled that a contract is not binding without the council’s signing off.

In March, special appointed Judge Jess Dickinson ruled that a contract, whether it was an emergency contract or not, was not binding without council approval. He upheld that decision as part of an updated ruling handed down in early April.

“It’s illegal to vote for anything we don’t have a legal and binding contract to send out payment for,” Banks said. “I’m not about to play with the state treasurer.”

Banks said that if the council approved payment, members could be on the hook to repay the funds if the contract is deemed invalid in court.

The Ward 6 leader also chided Williamson for advising the council to make the payment, knowing the risk members could face paying fees for a contract the council had not approved.

“You say it’s OK to take the risk... because at the end of the day it does not come out of the mayor’s check or your check... but there are seven members they will come after because we’re entertaining a vote on a claim, we do not have a contract for,” he said.

“It sets a bad precedent to say that if the council and the mayor don’t get along, and if the mayor goes ahead and executes a contract without (the council’s) authority... we still have to pay them. Is that how we’re going to begin operating our city?”

A current court case is pending in Hinds County Chancery Court to determine whether the mayor could veto a negative action of the council. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba previously vetoed the council’s decision to vote down a one-year emergency deal with Richard’s.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee agreed with Williamson that the fee should be paid. “This company has been working in good faith, and we as a council have to do what is right,” she said. “These workers have been providing service to the city of Jackson. They have been working every day and they need to pay their families.”

Ward 4 Councilman Brian Grizzell was worried about what would happen if Richard’s wasn’t paid.

“I understand the whole issue about contracts, but in the filings that our attorneys did, they also asked that Richard’s continue to pick up garbage while things play out in court,” he said. “What is our response should garbage collection stop? Then we’ll be back into another environmental issue. We need to think twice about this. They’ve done the job. They’ve done the work.”

According to Mayor Lumumba’s Feb. 2022 state of emergency, the city’s failure to pick up and dispose of garbage “will expose the city to risk of civil penalties at the rate of up to $25,000 each day” it remains uncollected, as well as other legal action by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Banks disagreed with Williamson and Grizzell that the council asked for Richard’s to continue picking up waste, saying that the city’s attorney was referring to Waste Management, the city’s previous contractor who was picking up garbage prior to April 1.

On April 1, attorney Deshun Martin, the council’s attorney, notified members that he had sent a cease and desist letter to the New Orleans-based Richard’s telling them to stop collecting waste, citing Dickinson’s ruling.

“The city council... has not approved any contract with Richard’s Disposal, Inc., and has instead, voted down contracts with Richard’s Disposal, Inc., on six occasions,” the letter read.

The letter goes on to state that the council had not authorized payments and would not authorize any such payments related to their work.

Copy of cease and desist letter to Richard's Disposal obtained through an open records request.
Copy of cease and desist letter to Richard's Disposal obtained through an open records request.(WLBT)

Council members, too, have spoken publicly, saying that would not pay Richard’s for work performed without a binding contract in place.

“They can ask for money. They can go to court to try to get the money,” said Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes. “The example I always give is a little boy comes to your yard, cuts your yard, and you didn’t ask them to cut it, you’re not responsible for paying it.”

Officials with Richard’s were not immediately available for comment.

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