The great majority of the crowd filling the council chamber and City Hall lobby Tuesday might have come expecting a little more than the narrow 4-2 vote and one absentee, but they were content, nevertheless, to know that the garbage contract with Richard’s Disposal would end the deluge of garbage that had piled up all over Jackson for more than two weeks.
Special Judge H. David Clark Monday severely scolded Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and the four city council members who have vehemently opposed the mayor for dragging city business into the courts. The judge’s no-nonsense attitude resulted in an agreement to re-hire Richard’s Disposal, Inc. on a 12-month emergency contract following a series of negotiations that ended around 2:30 p.m. Monday.
The judge had met in-turn and separately with the city council members and their attorneys, the attorneys for the city and mayor, and the legal team for Richard’s Disposal. By 3 p.m. Monday the new contract deal was announced.
A special meeting of the mayor and council to confirm the contract was set for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, based on a legal rule that required a wait of at least 24 hours, according to the city’s legal counsel.
Only one vote switched from “nay” to “aye,” that of Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks, just enough to make up a majority of four along with Ward 2’s Angelique Lee, Ward 4’s Brian Grizzell, and Ward 1’s Virgi Lindsay. And that was enough to legally adopt the contract.
The two “nay” votes were recorded for council president Republican Ashby Foote of Ward 7, and Black Democrat Vernon Hartley of Ward 5. Ward 3 council member Kenneth Stokes was absent Monday and Tuesday and was not counted in the votes.
Following the council vote, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba read a statement from Richard’s Disposal saying, “the main priority is to ensure a safe and timely removal of trash collections, beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
“It will take some time for them to catch up,” the mayor said.
CITY VS. CITY
The State Supreme Court appointed Clark as special judge after the four Hinds County Chancery judges recused themselves from the lawsuit that was characterized by some as “the city suing the city.”
Clark spurned the city council’s request to allow them to draw up a contract to be granted to a vendor of their choice, while stripping the mayor of his legal authority to present contracts to vendors.
“If I give you the authority, which you ask, you are encroaching upon the authority of the mayor, and it is thus unconstitutional,” Clark said. “How do I deal with that? Do I just amend the Constitution here today?”
Council attempts to circumvent the mayor’s authority over the garbage contract can be traced back to September 2020, when the last regular solid waste contract ended. Waste Management held the contract then and was granted an emergency contract for another year.
In September 2021, a four-person majority of the seven-person city council declared their own emergency primarily to deprive Lumumba of that authority. But pro bono attorney Roy Campbell, volunteering his services to the council at the time, advised them to seek a declaratory judgment against the mayor.
In March 2022, the four renegade council members, along with Black Democrat Grizzell, decided to bring in their own lawyers, although four attorney general opinions had stated that Jackson’s city attorney and staff are legally bound to represent both the mayor’s office and the city council.
A major question remains about who will pay the fees of the outside attorneys. The city has spent more than $200,000 on legal fees in less than a year, the city clerk reported last week. Only $400 remains in its legal budget.
At an April 5 Town Hall at Cornerstone Baptist Church that dealt with the garbage dispute, Council Attorney Deshun Martin told the small group drawn there mostly from Ward 3 that he normally charges a fee of $675 an hour but was charging the city council only $325 an hour.
City Attorney Catoria Martin reported last week that State Auditor Shad White’s office reached out to her in early April “regarding expenditures for legal services for attorneys hired by the city council.”
“Since April 5th,” she said, “we have received daily requests for additional information and for updates on the information previously provided. As a result of this request, I asked our litigation department to prepare the attached memo where they researched the authority of governing authorities to hire outside counsel and the potential personal liability for unauthorized expenditures of public funds.”
On four occasions between 1999 and 2007, the state’s chief law enforcer had responded to the question of whether the city council was empowered to hire a lawyer at the city’s expense, the city attorney said.
“Every time, the Attorney General has stated that the City Council may not do so,” she said.
RICHARD’S WORK PLAN
Richard’s workforce of nearly 80 was primed and ready to go back to work Wednesday, said Deidra Jones, Richard’s Marketing Manager.
Richard’s has continued to pay all its local employees for 48 hours work each week since March 31, although they were not working, she said. Some Richard’s employees volunteered to assist with the loads of trash that were brought into the various dumpsters the city has provided during the lapse of official garbage service.
“We were worried about the citizens of Jackson,” Jones said. “We didn’t want the trays falling off and hurting anyone.”
All during the disruption, Richard’s kept the doors open to a renewal of a contract that would be fair to everyone involved, Jones said.
“We were willing to negotiate, but they were not willing to negotiate with us,” she said. “Certain council members said they saved the city money. But they did not save the city money. Our prices were consistent with what we had for the last emergency.”
Richard’s had worked under a disputed one year emergency contract from April 1, 2022 until March 31, 2023. The mayor and council then failed again to agree on awarding Richard’s the six-year contract that the company contends it had won the year before.
Richard’s was unwilling to accept a 90-day or six-month emergency contract, because of their obligations to their own suppliers.
“They said we raised our price,” Jones said in the City Hall lobby. “We did when they only wanted to give us three months, six months, or nine months, because we can’t lease trucks for less than 12 months. So, we have to recoup that cost. But we never raised the price on the city. It was them – the council members – that were not willing to negotiate.”
The Hinds County Board of Supervisors began discussion on the possibility of intervening to protect public health and safety as the garbage pile up continued to mount. Jackson is the largest municipality in the county.
Supervisors David Archie of District 2 and Credell Calhoun, District 3, whose districts lie mostly in Jackson, said the county was poised to step in, but most likely will postpone any decision vis-à-vis the garbage pickup.
“We began our discussion on Monday and reconvened the meeting today,” Archie said Tuesday. “After the city and council cut their deal and promised that the garbage would be picked up, we decided that we wouldn’t take any action pending the new arrangement. Of course, we were ready to take action had not the city come up with a plan. We were going to find a way to make sure that the garbage of the citizens of Jackson would be taken care of.
“We were prepared to execute an emergency declaration, which would have included all five supervisors supporting it,” Archie said.
Calhoun said that he was open to delaying any county intervention in the garbage dispute until the new agreement has had a chance to work its way out.
After the compromise that ended in favor of Richard’s was accepted, a sense of relief swept across the chamber. There were a few expressions of disappointment, but there was no denying the preponderance of joy.
“It should have been done earlier and much quicker,” said Marilyn Triplett, a resident of Ward 5 for over 20 years. “My councilman, Mr. Hartley, has not represented my position on this at any time. I even wrote him a couple of times. But he never acknowledged that he got my letters. I think that at least I deserved an acknowledgement.”
“I’m happy it’s done,” said Shonnie Cooley of Ward 1.” And I’m not surprised by the ones that voted ‘no’.”
Akile Bakari has been a business owner, organizer, and community activist in Jackson for more than 40 years. He says he is happy that the garbage contract crisis has ended for now, but he hopes that a new awakening will occur for the sake of the city’s future.
“I’m pleased as a citizen and business owner that the trash collection will resume,” Bakari said. “I’d like to thank all of the citizens of Jackson for their patience and their perseverance in the face of tremendous obstacles from the state level as well from certain members of the Jackson City Council.
“Richard’s Disposal, a business that’s been in operation for over 44 years, happens to be Black owned and came into Jackson to serve the citizens here. Understanding business as I do, they really did not need this kind of hassle and these kinds of roadblocks. I’ve researched the company, and they have larger accounts than Jackson. And they employ 80 Jacksonians, and they pay a livable wage to those employees. They’ve made a commitment to this community. That’s why they’re still here. Business-wise, they don’t have to be here. But the owner and his executive staff understand that business is about more than dollars and cents. It’s about human beings. So, I’m just pleased that they were able to resume business.”
The future leadership of Jackson will have to be a lot more aware and capable in conducting the city’s affairs, he said.
“There are roughly 112,000 registered voters in the City of Jackson. In our best turnouts at elections, there may be 48,000 to 50,000, and that’s a high estimate,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job of being engaged. What has transpired this year has always been a problem, with the legislative assault coming from the state of Mississippi, looking to take over the city of Jackson, and to disenfranchise the voters and the elected officials of Jackson. We have to vote, but more importantly, we have to create a process by selecting who we want in these offices, giving them an agenda of what we want from these particular offices, and then put the mechanisms in place to hold them accountable before the next election.
“I’m extremely disappointed that there were still votes against the contract – today. Hartley and Foote voted against the contract. I live in Ward 1, and Foote’s vote implies to me that he doesn’t want garbage collection in Ward 1.
“What we’re seeing across the country is a concerted effort for an assault against the Democratic leadership, and particularly Black Democratic leadership. I’m not surprised. This is not new. It’s just much more overt now than ever.”
Members of the interracial organization Working Together Jackson have been contending with the major issues in the city for a number of years. During the contract crisis, they began soliciting support for “Contract Justice,” seeking a favorable outcome for Richard’s Disposal. Members of the group passed out flyers that were happily scooped up following Tuesday’s City Hall gathering.
“We are grateful that Special Judge David Clark dismissed the city council’s lawsuit against the mayor,” the group announced. “His ruling has led to a compromise that will end the 18-day garbage stoppage and give relief to all. During the next year, Working Together Jackson will continue to build a constituency working for Contract Justice and demanding that our city officials work together to secure long-term, cost-effective solid waste collection.”
Working Together Jackson plans to take their campaign door-to-door on a regular basis to demand better public service from elected leaders.