Councilwoman suggested subpoenaing staffers if mayor blocked them from speaking at meeting

Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay
Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay(City of Jackson)
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 12:12 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Emails obtained by WLBT reveal that a Jackson city councilwoman was considering asking her colleagues to subpoena city staffers and open an investigation into the city’s ongoing water and sewer issues if the mayor blocked department heads from answering questions at a meeting in late July.

The emails, which are now being called an “unfortunate email exchange” between Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay and Chief of Staff Dr. Safiya Omari, show tensions between the Jackson City Council and administration staffers continue to run high as city leaders grapple with one crisis after another.

They also come as the mayor and the council remain at odds over who will haul residents’ trash, and as the city finds itself under the fourth boil water notice issued for surface water connections since mid-June.

The exchange began after a request from Lindsay asking certain staffers to attend a July 26 committee meeting.

Omari responded to that request after she and the mayor were not initially included on the request.

According to a copy of the correspondence, Lindsay initially sent an email to the chief administrative officer, chief financial officer, and other department heads to speak at a special called meeting of the Water Billing and Infrastructure Ad Hoc Committee meeting.

Omari followed up, saying that the mayor’s office should be included in all requests to department heads and that the council does not have the authority to instruct employees other than their own deputy clerks.

“It is important that we have oversight of the activities of our employees. It is also the mayor’s responsibility to report to the council,” she wrote.

Omari went on to cite state statute, which says “no member of the council shall give orders to any employee or subordinate of a municipality, other than the council member’s personal staff.”

In response, Lindsay canceled the meeting and threatened to ask her colleagues to open an investigation into all items listed on that meeting’s agenda.

“This was a very unfortunate email exchange,” Lindsay said. “And I am committed to working with the administration as we move forward, especially during this very difficult budget process.”

The July 26 meeting was called amid the city’s June/July water crisis, which led to a water conservation notice and two city-wide boil water notices being issued.

The meeting was later rescheduled and held in August, and Omari and the mayor were included in that email chain.

Chief of Staff Safiya Omari asks that all requests for city workers to speak to the council...
Chief of Staff Safiya Omari asks that all requests for city workers to speak to the council come through the mayor's office.(WLBT)

Lindsay told Omari that no disrespect was meant by her initial email and it was sent as a courtesy to those “deemed critical to the success of the meeting, knowing that a global notice would shortly follow.”

“It was simply to let them know that the meeting was being planned and, given their busy schedules, give them an opportunity to inform me if there was a meeting conflict,” she wrote. “Omitting you and the mayor... was an oversight and not meant as disrespect.”

The initial email was sent on July 21 to the public works director, director of finance, chief administrative officer, deputy city attorney for public works, city engineer, and deputy director of public works over the Water/Sewer Business Administration.

According to the city’s organizational chart, the CAO is the highest-ranked official under the mayor, not the chief of staff.

Jackson Organizational Chart, which is found in the city's 2020 comprehensive annual financial...
Jackson Organizational Chart, which is found in the city's 2020 comprehensive annual financial report.(WLBT)

Lindsay went on to cancel the July 26 meeting and told Omari she would “instead ask my fellow council members to pass a resolution opening an investigation into all items listed on the previously scheduled meeting agenda. This allows for the council to compel the attendance of witnesses and delivery of requested documents.”

Lindsay, too, pointed to state and city code giving the council the authority to conduct investigations.

Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay says if staffers are not allowed to speak at council meetings, she...
Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay says if staffers are not allowed to speak at council meetings, she would lobby her colleagues to open an investigation.(WLBT)

For her part, Omari said an investigation would only serve to create drama and waste time. “You can proceed with your investigation and issue subpoenas, compel attendance and the like, if that’s what floats your boat, or you can simply send your request... through the mayor’s office,” she wrote. “If you choose the former... it will most certainly highlight the litigious nature of this council and its unwillingness to cooperate with the executive branch on even the simplest of requests.”

Omari was not immediately available for comment.

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