Contractor walked off job site for nonpayment; mayor calls it ‘bad business’

Jackson's One-Percent Oversight Commission met last week.
Jackson's One-Percent Oversight Commission met last week.(City of Jackson)
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 6:20 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba last week refuted claims that a contractor walked off the Terry Road mill and overlay project last fall for lack of payment.

Instead, he said the company left another city job “for a moment” after not getting paid.

Lumumba was speaking to members of the city’s one-percent infrastructure tax oversight commission at their March meeting.

He addressed claims first brought up by Commissioner Pete Perry in February.

“What we learned is that Hemphill actually left the site due to distribution chain matters,” the mayor said. “They had no work they could do because they were waiting on actual equipment.”

Hemphill was awarded a $3.9 million contract to mill and overlay Terry Road between McDowell Road and I-20 back in November 2021.

The Florence-based company began construction last summer. However, contractors temporarily ceased work on the project in the fall, according to Perry, for lack of pay.

Perry asked the city about the situation at the February meeting, saying he heard Hemphill had not been paid for months.

Interim Public Works Director Robert Lee told commissioners he heard in November Hemphill had ceased operations.

Perry contends the commission should have been told in January that work had halted but were instead told by Lee that work was still progressing.

“If he was aware of it in November, for whatever reason, we should have been told in January,” he said. “Now, that’s part of my concern.”

The commission is responsible for overseeing how Jackson spends revenues from its one-percent tax. Those funds, which are placed on certain commercial transactions in the city, go into a special account and can only be used for infrastructure projects, like roads, water and sewer.

Lumumba told commissioners the February meeting prompted him to look into the issue further. He said that’s when Lee told him Hemphill had temporarily stopped work along Mill Street for nonpayment.

Hemphill was brought on to replace a bridge along Mill Street north of Capitol Street. It was not clear the cost of that contract.

The mayor hopes that problem will be addressed at Tuesday’s council meeting. “Their [invoices] are set to come up on the March 14 agenda,” he said. “So that catches up.”

He said the bigger concern was Hemphill walking off the job without telling him.

“If you make $55 million off the city of Jackson alone and you decide to leave the site without communication, and the only person who can tell me that you’ve left the site is Pete Perry in a commission meeting, then I have a problem,” he said. “If you’re not communicating with us officially, then that is bad. That is bad business.”

Approximately $56 million in construction contracts have been awarded to Hemphill since 2020, city officials said.

Many of those projects, including ones along Terry Road and Riverside Drive, are being funded at least in part with one-percent infrastructure money.

Perry said it doesn’t matter how many contracts the company has received, and that not being paid is a problem.

“They got paid $11 million in November for a year’s worth of work on Riverside Drive,” he said. “When you work a year and get paid at one time, I don’t care how much work you do. There’s plenty of work out there right now and they can go other places.”

Perry is worried other contractors aren’t getting paid as well, as evidenced by the lack of changes in the monthly finance reports given to the commission.

He points to the fact that records yet to reflect roughly $8 million the city has awarded to contractors from a road resurfacing bond, despite the fact that the contracts were awarded last summer.

[Bill strengthening reporting requirements for one-percent tax clears Senate]

“Without it being in the system, our contractors and our engineers aren’t being paid,” he said. “And that’s causing the cost of our work to go up, because people are tired of working and bidding on our jobs because we don’t pay them. And if it’s not in the system and it hasn’t been in the system since July, they don’t get paid.”

Hemphill officials did not respond to our request for comment.

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