Judge: ‘We have City of Jackson versus City of Jackson’

Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 9:10 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 17, 2023 at 9:42 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - It’s more hurry up and wait in a case that could determine trash pickup in the capital city.

Proceedings were recessed Monday in the latest court case between the Jackson mayor and city council over who picks up residents’ garbage.

The case could be resumed at 9 a.m. Tuesday, pending the outcome of Monday’s closed-door talks between the judge and attorneys representing parties in the case.

It comes more than two weeks after residential trash collections ended in the capital city, and as the council and mayor have been at a more than a year-long stalemate over who will be awarded a trash-hauling contract.

“We are in the process of discussing several legal issues, several factual issues, but the bottom line is, several practical issues to right the ship,” Special Appointed Judge David Clark said. “I’m going to spend a good bit of time this afternoon... discussing these issues.”

The hearing went on for more than an hour, with the judge rejecting a request from the mayor to stay the proceedings. Clark also intimated he was not going to approve the council’s request to allow it to enter into talks with a vendor in lieu of the mayor, citing potential constitutional issues.

Meanwhile, Clark chided representatives for the mayor and the council for both parties failing to work together. “What we have here is the city of Jackson versus the city of Jackson. That raises a few issues by itself,” he said. “We’re not going to fix this in a court of law. We’ll fix it at the ballot box.”

At the heart of the matter is whether the council can enter into talks with a contractor to pick up the city’s trash if the mayor refuses to bring forward a contract that can be approved.

Under the State Constitution, the ability to negotiate a contract falls under the city’s executive branch, while the ability to approve or deny that agreement falls to the legislative body.

However, attorneys for the council say their client should be able to act after the mayor has failed to enter into talks with a company other than Richard’s Disposal, which the council has rejected multiple times in the last year.

“The city council believes that the appropriate solution to all of this would be to put out a short-term contract in place with someone other than the one vendor that has been rejected repeatedly,” council attorney John Scanlon said.

Richard’s was one of three companies that responded to the city’s October 2021 request for proposals for waste-hauling. The council has rejected that firm on multiple occasions since January 2022, with some members saying they would back an agreement with Waste Management.

Clark, who was appointed after local judges recused themselves, intimated that he would have a problem granting the council’s request.

“If I give you the authority, which you ask, you are encroaching upon the authority of the mayor, and it is thus unconstitutional,” he said. “How do I deal with that? Do I just amend the constitution here today?”

Scanlon said if the mayor would do his job, the council wouldn’t have made the request.

He pointed to a Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion to back up his claim.

“We’re not asking about forever, but there is an opinion that was issued... it says we are unable to locate authority specifically binding the negotiations of contracts to be exclusively legislative or exclusively executive,” Scanlon said.

Attorney John Scanlon says the council should be granted the authority to negotiate with a...
Attorney John Scanlon says the council should be granted the authority to negotiate with a trash-hauling contractor after the mayor fails to bring forward a contract the council will approve.(WLBT)

However, the judge made Scanlon read more of the opinion, saying legislative bodies could negotiate, as long as those talks don’t encroach on the duties of the other office.

“Wow, that’s coming in the back door,” Clark said. “Don’t do somebody else’s job. You’re doing your own job, don’t do somebody else’s.”

He also questioned why Lumumba continued to present a contract the council wouldn’t approve.

“He looked at the proposals he received under the RFP... he selected one, takes that to the council. The council says no. So, he turns around and renegotiates with the exact same vendor and brings the exact same contract back to the council and recommends that contract for a second time,” he said.

Attorney Felicia Perkins said the mayor didn’t bring back the same contract each time, but rather a new contract after terms were renegotiated at the behest of the council.

She said the mayor also recommended a ballot referendum to offer citizens of Jackson an opportunity to vote on who they wanted to pick up trash.

“Allowing the citizens to vote on what garbage contract... Would you allow them to vote on any other city issues or just that?” he asked.

“You’re never gonna find anybody who wants to deal with this thing,” he said, referring to potential contractors. “And if they do that, they’ll charge you a premium for it. They’re gonna figure in their attorneys’ fees and their lawsuit costs and all that.”

Mayor Lumumba consults with his attorney during a Monday morning hearing in Hinds County...
Mayor Lumumba consults with his attorney during a Monday morning hearing in Hinds County Chancery Court.(WLBT)

He also asked Perkins what the mayor’s responsibility if the council rejects a proposal.

“He can renegotiate, he can find another vendor. He has a number of options, but he has to present a vendor to the council,” Perkins said.

After about an hour and 20 minutes of questioning, Clark said the best solution might be additional talks, rather than litigation.

“So, what I’m suggesting to you is that we take a break and the council, and the mayor sit down and negotiate this contract,” he said. “At some point, there has to be some compromise, or else we wind up with trash on the street.”

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