The long period of crisis and conflict in Jackson’s public affairs is likely to continue after the City Council’s 5-2 vote in executive session Tuesday to pay emergency garbage disposal contractor Richard’s Disposal, Inc. $4.8 million. At the same time, however, it was announced that former contractor Waste Management will be awarded a new contract come January 2023.
City Council Attorney Deshun Martin said the council voted by a super majority in executive session to “resolve the matter with Richard’s Disposal and pay for work done to date.”
Richard’s will continue to collect the city’s garbage until the Mississippi Supreme Court rules in the city’s appeals case, or until Jan. 1, 2023, the date Martin said Waste Management will return to its old position.
Council President Ashby Foote said no decision had been made on awarding a contract to Waste Management. The council passed an order for Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba to return to the RFP – Request for Proposal – process, he said.
Lumumba accused the council of acting beyond its powers in the executive session vote.
“Once again, the council fails to understand the law and the limitations of their office,” he said in a statement. “They do not hold any positions that allow them to present a contract to Waste Management or any other vendor.”
There was no official discussion of the six-year contract Richard’s Disposal had reportedly won with its original RFP. Richard’s bid would have saved Jackson an estimated one million dollars a month, figures released earlier by the mayor’s office indicated.
Meanwhile, litigation over whether the council has usurped the mayor’s sole authority to offer a contract to a waste disposal company has reached the State Supreme Court.
The court gave the mayor until October 10 to file his brief. And the council has until October 25 to file its brief. Lumumba announced earlier in the week that he had filed his brief on time. He will have until November 1 to file a reply brief once the city council has filed its own, Chief Justice Michael K. Rudolph wrote in his instructions.
As the tension has mounted, Richard’s owner, Alvin Lionel Richard Jr., has shown a great deal of patience while using his own funds to uphold his end of the emergency contract.
He has run Richard’s Disposal, Inc. for more than 44 years, he said. And he also retired from the aerospace industry after 34 years.
“Right now,” he said, “we’re just concentrating on getting through with the emergency contract and then see what the mayor and city council want to do with the six-year contract.
“We have over 70 employees here, and they’re all from Jackson,” he said. “Some had jobs before, but we gave them a better job. Some were unemployed. About half of them had never seen or driven a garbage truck before. So, I had training for them. We came in and did all of these things for all of our people. We had no routes. The City didn’t have any, and we couldn’t get any from Waste Management. We had to create our own. And from that point on, it was an uphill fight. And it’s probably only now that we’ve gotten all that behind us.”
His wife has relatives in Mississippi, he says, and some of them urged him to place his bid for the Jackson contract.
“Our reception in the community has been a hundred percent favorable,” Richard said. “I cannot answer for what Waste Management has done. But I can tell you about Richard’s Disposal. All 70 of our employees are Richard’s Disposal employees and they’re on Richard’s payroll, not someone else’s.
“This is the first time I won a contract and wasn’t awarded it,” Richard said. “This is a first for me. We won the RFP for the six-year contract, which was not awarded. Then the mayor put out an emergency contract, the same way he did with Waste Management the year before. So, we accepted it, with the opportunity to come in for a year and we’d possibly get the six years. So, quitting and not ever doing the job had never been a question. And once I hired 70 people to work, I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t turn them down and put them back out doing the things they were doing. They’re making a good living now.”
Following the weekend announcement that Richard’s would be paid $4.8 million for six months of services rendered, a capacity crowd at Tuesday’s city council meeting was left wondering if the agreement would be honored or whether the City would risk having mountains of trash and torrents of refuse accumulate among its 155,000 households after at least two council members virulently opposed the payment.
On Oct. 5, Richard’s Disposal Attorney John Walker filed a motion in federal court asking for a summary judgment against the City. The original federal suit was filed in July asking for $1.6 million for two months of service to the City of Jackson. After six months, Richard’s claimed the City owed the company $4.8 million.
Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee said in an interview before the council meeting, she would support a contract and the payment due Richard’s Disposal.
“Richard’s Disposal won the bid,” she said. “They were the lowest and the best. I polled my ward before we even voted. And they wanted twice-weekly pickups with the lowest rate. And that was Richard’s.”
She also supported a six-year contract for Richard’s, she said shortly before going into the council meeting.
Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes insisted at Tuesday’s open session that he was not willing to pay Richard’s claims. The council vote took place in executive session later Tuesday afternoon.
Following the closed executive session, City Council Attorney Martin said the council wants to “make sure that there is no…gap in solid waste collection and disposal for the City.”
If it didn’t pay Richard’s Disposal and allowed the garbage to pile up, the City could have been fined as much as $25,000 a day according to Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regulations.
Bishop Ronnie Crudup, pastor of New Horizon Church International, spoke on behalf of Working Together Jackson, a coalition of some 35 organizations devoted to attaining “positive results in Jackson,” and called for an end to the crisis around garbage.
“Let’s put garbage behind us by ratifying the RFP that was already in place for Richard’s Disposal,” Crudup said at a press conference before the city council meeting got underway. “We think Richard’s has done an excellent job. He’s proven he can do this. He’s hired 70 people from this community who are doing a really great job.
“We know there is a proposal on the docket to open another RFP. We don’t think Jackson needs that. We don’t need that kind of problem anymore. We don’t need any more crises around garbage. The city council can ratify the contract with Richard’s. And that’s what we encourage them to do.”
Another Working Together Jackson member, Pastor Jimmie Lee Edwards of Rosemont Baptist Church and president of the Jackson Metropolitan Ministers Fellowship, also urged a resort to common sense in the current conflict.
“I think Richard’s Disposal has been of great service to our city,” he said. “Why do Black people have to prove themselves before they get any type of work or benefits in the city? Why do we have to prove ourselves? I certainly appreciate Mr. Richard and his company for what they’re doing.
“I live on Oak Glen Place. The garbage service is a hundred percent different now than it was before Richard’s took on the job. I have garbage cans that the previous company tore up and left garbage all in the street in our neighborhood. I’ve talked with my neighbors and they have no complaints about Richard’s.”
ESPRIT DE CORPS
At a Sunday afternoon press conference on October 9, Richard’s 70 employees and their supporters displayed an amazing esprit de corps – sheer joy and camaraderie for the entire Jackson community – only two days before Tuesday’s disappointing council vote.
When asked if he had any regrets about having come to Jackson, company owner Richard said, “I didn’t have any then, and I don’t have any now.”
Driver Barbara Ford, a former secretary, is fully in tune with Richard’s way of doing business.
“I was doing secretary work before I got with Richard’s,” she says.” But I was so glad he came and gave us the opportunity to do what I love doing. We like cleaning up the neighborhood. We like pleasing our customers and we’re trying to keep them happy. And we’re so proud of Mr. Richard.”
Jaylon Gibson has been with Richard’s during the first six months of the company’s emergency contract with Jackson.
“It’s a better company,” Gibson said. “I worked for Waste Management for about two years. I could tell right off the bat that this is a better company.”
Victoria McDonald, another driver for Richard’s, said she had trained many years before being brought on board at Richard’s.
“I’ve been in the business for 25 years,” McDonald said. “I love it. We don’t have anybody bothering us. We do our job and then we just go home. I’d advise anyone to come and work for Richard’s. No problem.”
Richard’s Disposal began its work for the city on April 1, after receiving a letter from Lumumba reassuring the company that, “only the mayor may negotiate a contract for solid waste disposal on behalf of the City of Jackson,” adding that “the council has no authority to amend the Mayor’s declaration of a local emergency.”
Special Judge Jess H. Dickinson had ruled in March that the mayor was empowered to draw up an emergency contract without the support of a majority of the council. But that ruling was overturned on appeal.