Supreme Court upholds lower court ruling in trash-related veto case

Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 1:46 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba cannot veto a negative vote of the city council, so says the Mississippi Supreme Court.

On Thursday, justices on the high court unanimously upheld a lower court’s decision from last summer saying the same.

“Because the mayor in the mayor-council municipality may not, in his limited legislative power, veto an action or measure not undertaken by the city council and because no statutory authority exists allowing him to do so, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.”

The ruling means the city’s contract with Richard’s Disposal will expire at the end of the month. However, the one-year emergency deal was already slated to end on March 31.

Richard’s began hauling residential waste in the city last April under a one-year emergency contract. The company began work despite the contract never being approved by council members.

“We have to figure out who is going to pick up trash starting on the first of April,” Council President Ashby Foote said. “The council’s got to put its nose to the grindstone and come up with a solution.”

Foote says the council is waiting to hear from the mayor.

Council members also are waiting to hear from the chancery court again, after it filed a petition seeking permission to hire its own contractor if the mayor refuses to bring a second contract forward.

Said Foote, “The most important issue at hand is having trash pickup on the first of April.

Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne said the mayor did not have a comment at this time.

Lumumba previously stated that under terms of the October 2021 waste-hauling request for proposals, he could not legally bring another firm for the council to consider unless Richard’s walks away from the city.

A request for proposals is issued when cities are seeking professional services, such as trash-hauling. Responses to those requests are reviewed and scored, and the highest-scoring proposals are taken to the council or legislative body for consideration.

The council rejected hiring Richard’s several times. It also rejected awarding a one-year emergency contract to the firm, prompting the mayor’s veto.

Following the mayor’s veto, the council filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court seeking a ruling on whether the mayor’s actions were legal.

Special Appointed Judge Larry Roberts ruled in favor of the council, saying the mayor can’t veto something that doesn’t exist.

The mayor appealed that decision to the high court, arguing that state statute gives him the ability to veto actions of the council, and that a negative vote is a council action.

Justices, though, disagreed, saying Lumumba didn’t consider the state statute when read in whole.

“The code section clarifies and outlines that a mayor may only veto an ordinance that has been adopted by the city council. An ordinance by the city of Jackson states the same,” justices opined. “Thus, it is clear under both the law of the state of Mississippi and of the city of Jackson that only adopted, affirmative action is an action that may be vetoed.”

“The mayor was not legally entitled to veto a non-action or negative vote of the city council,” they continued. “The overwhelming weight of authority supports the special chancellor’s grant of the city council’s motion for summary judgment.”

Attorney Deshun Martin, who’s representing the city council, said the process to begin selecting another garbage company is already underway.

”The city council is working daily, hourly, to be ready to wind up vender two, if that doesn’t work, to wind up vendor three, RFP (Request for Proposals) three, to carry on the solid waste disposal and garbage collection the city of Jackson, so we don’t have a delay or gap in service,” said Martin.

Investigative Reporter C.J. LeMaster contributed to this report.

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