Jackson Trash Crisis: Garbage contract pulled, Richard’s to sue city

Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 3:37 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Minutes after voting down a request to terminate an ongoing lawsuit against the mayor, the Jackson City Council found out it was being named in another one.

At a special called meeting to vote on a trash-hauling contract on Monday, the council did not have a chance to vote on a request to hire Richard’s Disposal for trash collection.

Instead, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba pulled the item from the agenda. Before he could explain why, the meeting was adjourned.

“Richard’s Disposal has made the determination that they are filing suit against the city of Jackson,” City Attorney Catoria Martin said after the meeting was gaveled down. “They are appealing this decision of the city and so, therefore that is a reason why I am recommending to the administration and to the council that we pull that item from the agenda today.”

Council chambers erupted, as Lumumba went to a microphone to take questions.

“Since the time we announced to you that were going to put that six-year contract on [the agenda] ... They informed us that they are filing suit today against Jackson for our denial of their rightful bid,” he said. “And so, the city attorney advises the city as a body, and because of that, she advised that it was in our legal interest not to go forward with this today.”

The mayor told the crowd he found out about the suit shortly before the meeting and that it was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court.

He said he’s looking into whether Jackson can enter into an emergency contract with Richard’s to continue trash pickup until the legal matters are sorted out.

“If they can do that, then I do believe Richard’s has both the staff in place and the equipment in place to begin pickup immediately,” he said. “But that’s presuming a lot. That’s presuming, one, that we’re able to get an agreement that they are there in line with. We will have to talk that out. And then, that’s also an agreement that the council is willing to accept.”

Monday’s meeting comes more than a week after the council previously rejected bringing on the company.

At a special meeting on April 1, the council voted down a six-year, $54 million contract with the firm, leaving the city without garbage collection services.

The decision prompted the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to look into the matter and send the city a notice of violation on April 7.

According to the notice, the city’s temporary drop-off sites are not adequate to address the city’s solid waste needs.

Last week, the city provided Dumpsters at Metrocenter Mall and at the Byram Class 1 Rubbish Landfill.

Lumumba doesn’t argue the agency’s point. “I’ve always said that how we’re picking up trash in the absence of a garbage contract... was imperfect,” he said. “But what we’re trying to do is mitigate or make that challenge less of a significant [one] for you.”

To solve that problem, MDEQ Executive Director Christopher Wells recommended placing trash receptacles in all wards, rather than just in the two locations the city has them set up.

Lumumba, though, says Jackson doesn’t have the ability to do that. “We don’t have the trucks, we don’t have the personnel in order to monitor that,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is put forward our best efforts.”

The city faces $25,000 a day in fines for each day it does not provide garbage collection services to residents.

MDEQ officials would not say on Monday whether the agency is already imposing those fines.

Council President Ashby Foote said the council still should have been able to vote, regardless of a potential lawsuit.

“The important thing is not the lawsuit. The important thing is getting the garbage picked up,” he said. “We were ready to negotiate some 90-day or less plan to pick up garbage by Richard’s, and he pulled that item.”

Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks, who previously said he would support a 90-day contract with Richard’s, was skeptical a lawsuit has been filed.

“Until we see one filed, until we’ve been served with one, we don’t know the details and what [Richard’s] even sued for, especially when he’s never had a contract,” he said.

The suit was filed on Monday. It was made available on the Mississippi Electronic Courts website late Monday afternoon.

The suit marks the second time in less than a year that Richard’s has brought a complaint against the city.

Last summer, the company took the city to federal court after the council refused to pay for work provided under Richard’s one-year emergency contract.

The council argued they never approved the contract and could not pay for work that was never authorized.

The city eventually settled out of court and agreed to pay Richard’s $4.8 million in back pay and keep the company in place until after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in another trash-related matter.

The Supreme Court ruled in that case in March, and the Richard’s contract expired on March 31.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba calls for order following a city council meeting after things get...
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba calls for order following a city council meeting after things get heated between Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes and someone in attendance.(WLBT)

Meanwhile, the mayor and council are embroiled in yet another lawsuit. In February, the council filed a complaint in Hinds County Chancery Court seeking permission to move forward the RFP process after they said the mayor has refused to do so.

An RFP is a request for proposals. Cities enter issue these requests when seeking professional services, such as waste hauling.

Jackson issued its last RFP for garbage collection services in October 2021. Three companies responded to request. However, the mayor has refused to negotiate with any firm other than Richard’s.

The council argues that since it voted down Richard’s, the mayor should enter into talks with other vendors. If the mayor won’t, council members say they should be allowed to do so.

A hearing in that case is slated for Monday, April 17.

Lumumba said he is considering an emergency contract with Richard’s similar to the federal settlement, keeping the company on until the cases are decided.

Said Lumumba, “I envision potentially putting up an emergency contract later this week.”

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