Judge issues written order in Jackson veto case; calls mayor’s argument ‘nonsensical’

Special Appointed Judge Larry Roberts reviews exhibits submitted in the Jackson City Council's...
Special Appointed Judge Larry Roberts reviews exhibits submitted in the Jackson City Council's case against Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.(WLBT)
Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 11:55 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Judge Larry Roberts has handed down a written ruling in a case that determines whether the mayor can veto a no vote by the Jackson City Council.

And just like he said from the bench following last week’s hearing, the mayor can’t.

However, the ruling posted on the Mississippi Electronic Courts website Friday did offer additional details behind his decision.

As part of the seven-page order, Roberts ripped the mayor’s argument as nonsensical, saying that the city’s own statute goes against his argument, as do years of attorney general’s opinions.

At the heart of the matter is whether the mayor could override the council’s decision to vote down an emergency waste-hauling contract with Richard’s Disposal. The firm began work on April 1, after the mayor vetoed the council’s rejection of the proposal.

Roberts said that the council’s rejection of the contract was inaction, not action and that Lumumba cannot veto a negative action.

“The attorney general’s office has opined on more than one occasion that ‘a negative action, ie., a failed motion, is not subject to veto by the mayor,’” he wrote. “The court agrees with the attorney general’s interpretation that when a matter is not passed by the city council, it is a negative action to which the mayor does not have the power to veto.”

The council filed suit against the mayor in May asking the court to determine whether Lumumba could veto their no vote.

The council had rejected bringing on Richard’s at least four times, including twice on April 1, the same day the New Orleans-based company began picking up residential waste in the capital city.

For his part, the mayor argued his vetoes were valid, based, in part, on a now-vacated ruling handed down in a related case by Judge Jess Dickinson.

In March, Dickinson ruled that a contract is not binding if the council does not approve it, but included a footnote in the case saying that the mayor could hypothetically veto the council’s rejection.

The mayor also points to two state statutes that he said gave him the authority to do so. Those code sections include 21-8-17, which gives the mayor power to veto ordinances adopted by the council, and 21-8-47, which defines any action of the council as an ordinance. His argument is that a no vote is an official action and therefore an ordinance that can be vetoed.

Attorneys for Lumumba said both ordinances must be read together, and that when they’re read together, it appears the mayor can override a negative vote.

Roberts, though, said those rules must also be read along with a Jackson city ordinance, which states that “no action of the city council shall be considered adopted unless it receives the affirmative of that portion of the council dictated by state law.”

He goes on to state that if the mayor could veto a negative vote, and if the council could not override that veto, the mayor would be able to rule “without there ever having been an ‘affirmative’ majority council vote.”

Statute mandates that at least four votes of the seven-member council are needed to pass most ordinances. At least five votes, or two-thirds of the council body, are needed to override a mayoral veto.

“Such an interpretation would give the mayor ‘creative legislative power’ contrary to law, and effectively transform the majority vote legislative mandate into a two-thirds override vote requirement,” Roberts wrote. “The mayor’s argument appears somewhat nonsensical to this court.”

The mayor has 30 days to appeal the ruling. He said last week following the hearing that he was considering an appeal.

Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Copyright 2022 WLBT. All rights reserved.