Heated exchanges between the Jackson City Council and city administrators have come to a head as ongoing negotiations to choose a garbage collection contract for the city continue with no end in sight.
Waste Management, who has secured the city garbage contract for five years, says they will sue the city for refusing to negotiate. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has been pushing for Richard’s Disposal to become the city’s choice since last year, but four members on the council, Aaron Banks (Ward 6), Kenneth Stokes (Ward 3), Vernon Hartley (Ward 5), and Ashby Foote (Ward 1), want to extend the contract with Waste Management. The current contract with Waste Management is set to expire on April 1, 2022, and they have offered to extend services for one more month at the same price while they negotiate. Jackson is currently in a six-month emergency agreement with Waste Management which the city entered into on September 30, 2021.
On February 10 of this year, Lumumba declared a local emergency over trash pickup after the council twice rejected his proposal to award the waste-hauling contract to Richard’s Disposal. As part of the emergency, the mayor said he would contract with Richard’s “for the collection of residential solid waste beginning on April 1, 2022, continuing for the period of one year or the procurement of a permanent contract” if no contract is in place by that time. Last week, the council voted to extend the state of emergency, taking out the reference to Richard’s Disposal and replacing it with language that says the city will keep the current contract. Nonetheless, Ward 7 Councilperson and Council President Virgi Lindsey says she’s not sure if that’s legal because currently only the mayor has the power to negotiate garbage contracts on the city’s behalf.
“I’m going to have to get legal advice on this, and I’m really not going to talk about this too much because I’m very concerned that we are in a situation where we have potential litigation,” she said.
Lindsay said the council will have to hire outside lawyers again due to a possible conflict with the City Attorney’s Office.
Jackson’s garbage woes began in October 2021 when the City of Jackson issued a new RFP for trash-hauling. Three firms responded to the request and were asked to submit proposals to provide once-a-week and twice-a-week pickups, both with and without garbage carts. Other companies that submitted proposals included Waste Management of Mississippi and FCC Environmental Services. Richard’s Disposal received the highest score for the twice-a-week option with carts. Waste Management received the second-highest score during the proposal evaluation process.
Those in support of Richard’s Disposal say that the company is offering a service that could save Jackson millions of dollars. The trash collection would cost the city $756,000 monthly, which the city says is less than what it is currently paying under its emergency contract. It is also about $100,000 less than a proposal for twice-weekly service without a free, company-provided trash cart. But Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks and Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley say those numbers are deceptive if you add in additional costs. That discrepancy, they say, gives them pause.
“We should at least have the respect to know what it is costing us now. It could be completely different than everything else that has been said because it’s done on an emergency basis.” He adds, “In all transparency, I don’t know what I’m voting to approve. It’s irresponsible for me to take a blind vote of a price tag,” Banks said.
“Only if you add in the cost of garbage cans that no one wants will Richard’s Disposal have the lowest bid,” Hartley said.
The one-year deal would require Richard’s Disposal to pick up curbside trash twice a week. Contractors also would be required to remove up to two bulk items, all “containerized” yard debris, and up to two cubic yards of “uncontainerized” yard debris from homes once a week.
Richard’s Disposal would be required to maintain an office and service facilities that people could call without charge by telephone. The office would have to be staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The contract, however, does not call for residents to have 96-gallon carts, which would have been required under previous proposals. Richard’s Disposal would charge Jackson $15 per house per month based on a house count of 53,869 homes.
Ward 4 Councilman Brian Grizzell, who voted in favor of the Richard’s Disposal bid, says the current contract will ultimately cost the citizens more money.
“That bid was the lowest and best bid, saving the citizens of Jackson a lot of money, especially with a six-year contract where we will be costing the citizens of Jackson $7.3 million more and the city is not going to absorb the cost; the people will.”
The back and forth between council members has reached a critical point over the last two weeks. Last week’s special session devolved into a shouting match at times with councilpersons grilling City Attorney Catoria Martin and Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes and Chief of Staff Dr. Safiya Omari having a tense exchange.
Afterward, the Mayor’s Office released a statement to the media:
“Regretfully, today was another example of continuous attempts of a slim majority of City Council members to circumvent the procurement process and allow our current garbage collection vendor, Waste Management, to maintain a contract that they lost in a legitimate bid process.
“Richard’s Disposal won the garbage collection bid. In 99% of cases, the council abides by this well-established and routine practice, where the top bid is selected. But when it comes to Waste Management, who lost out in two separate bidding processes, a majority of the council seems uninterested in the very real ramifications of their decision.
“Today, they attempted to circumvent the emergency procurement process when they realized that Richard’s (Disposal) would be the emergency contractor. Then they changed their mind and voted to continue the emergency and to amend the order to replace Richard’s Disposal with Waste Management. This almost comical attempt to continue Waste Management’s service clearly crossed the line of separation of powers. It is unclear why these council members are so bound and determined to contract with Waste Management. What is clear is that Richard’s Disposal won the bid with a proposal that would save the City millions of dollars over the next 6 years. What also remains clear is that Mayor Lumumba retains the right to procure contracts and he would be violating state statute by allowing council members to make those decisions without any compelling reasons. Mayor Lumumba remains totally committed to acting in the best interest of the City of Jackson.
“The council should know better. They do know better and the facts and the law are not on their side.”
On Monday, in a press conference, the mayor went a step further saying he believes that some members of the council have taken bribes. He questioned why at least 2 of the city councilpersons, Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes and Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote, had aligned on the same side.
“When was the last time you saw Kenny Stokes show up to this many special city council meetings? These are the things that you have to look at. When was the last time you saw Kenny Stokes and Ashby Foote so closely aligned to one another? You have to ask yourself, ‘What is going on here?’” Lumumba said.
Both Stokes and Foote denied Lumumba’s claims. Stokes on Tuesday delivered a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office asking for an investigation into the mayor’s claims. The letter calls Lumumba’s accusations “intentionally malicious and false.”
If the city does not have a garbage vendor in place by April, it could face civil penalties up to $25,000 and other legal action by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.