As 10 days of uncollected garbage continued to pile up throughout Jackson, a special meeting Monday, purportedly to deal with the garbage contract crisis, was brought to an abrupt end with no substantial discussion of the garbage issue taking place.
Council president Ashby Foote of Ward 1 gaveled the meeting to a close after Mayor Chokwe Lumumba withdrew the contract item from the agenda. The only other agenda item asked for the dismissal of an earlier lawsuit, pitting the council against the mayor and ending the pay of the two opposing attorneys who were both billing the city. The seven-member council voted 4-3 against dismissal. The mayor then asked to withdraw the contract discussion from the agenda.
Richard’s Disposal Inc., whose emergency contract ended March 31, has filed a lawsuit against the City of Jackson for wrongful denial of its contract, City Attorney Catoria P. Martin told the overflow crowd, who vented most of their anger against the four council members for voting against the six-year garbage contract to Richard’s, a Black owned company.
The city clerk reported that Jackson has paid over $220,000 in legal fees so far this year and has only a little over $400 left in the account. Action on the contract and the garbage collection was suspended until after Lumumba and the council met Wednesday to discuss the possibility of another emergency contract with Richard’s. Frustrated by no movement on waste disposal in executive session Wednesday, the mayor told the media he’s not certain of next steps.
RICHARD’S AWAITS CITY ACTION
Richard’s CEO and founder Alvin Richard stood along the far wall of the council chamber during the abbreviated special session and the mayor’s press conference. He said he would follow through on his lawsuit and/or other actions once he knows what comes out of the Wednesday meetings.
“My plan of action is to wait to see what happens Wednesday, whether they give me my six-year contract or another year’s extension,” he said. “I will accept nothing less than one of those offers.”
All but two of Richard’s 80 employees live in Jackson, he said. And most of those reside in Ward 3, where Councilmember Kenneth Stokes, a consistent opponent of Richard’s, holds sway. The company employees have been paid at Richard’s own expense since March and will continue to receive pay as long as he can provide it.
“I will pay them as long as I can to keep them in funds until I find out exactly what’s going to happen to our contract,” Richard said.
Richard dismissed the specious argument that because his company’s headquarters is in New Orleans, he would deprive Jackson of the revenue paid for the contract. The patient businessman pointed out that the two other competitors for the Jackson contract, Waste Management and FCC Environment, are headquartered in Houston, TX, and in Northampton, England (UK), respectively.
“The whole bottom line is that all of my employees work for Richard’s,” he said. “Waste Management and that other company use a labor pool. All my employees are hired and employed by Richard’s directly. We bank with Liberty Bank, a good and reliable Black bank here in the city of Jackson. So, the money that comes into our hands from the city of Jackson goes to Liberty Bank. The payroll and all the other business go through them to my employees.
“I think it’s an irony of history that last week we commemorated the death of Martin Luther King and he was fighting for the rights of the sanitation workers of Memphis when he was killed. And the bottom line is that they had the workers out there saying ‘I am a man,’ and today our people here in Jackson are wearing T-shirts that say, ‘I am Jackson.’
“So, all of my employees live here despite Stokes and the rest of them saying they’re not from here. Only two of my managers don’t live here. But they’re here every week. They split the week. Otherwise, all my employees live here in Jackson.”
Councilman Stokes denies any alliance or close association with Foote or any other council members and maintains that he will not vote in favor of any contract he deems detrimental to his constituents.
Ten minutes before the special meeting was scheduled to begin, Ward 5’s Vernon Hartley and Ward 6’s Aaron Banks dashed into Foote’s office on the west side of the chamber. Large numbers of voters from all wards have been asking why these two Black Democrats have forged such a tight bond with this white Republican conservative.
When Banks and Hartley were asked why they were meeting in Foote’s office before the public meeting, Banks responded with an insult, calling the inquiry “a stupid question.” Hartley simply said there was a press conference somewhere.
In an impromptu press conference outside the chamber after Monday’s session, Foote and Banks told members of the press that they were open to offering Richard’s an unconditional 90-day contract, but they had had no response from the mayor.
Members of the public, still discussing the issue inside the packed chamber with Mayor Lumumba, objected to the idea of offering such a limited, 90-day contract to Richard’s.
Some of the state Republican leadership has been plotting revenge and ruin on Jackson’s Black majority government since it gained control of the city in 1985. State Senator John Horhn of Jackson called the plot an attempt at the “decapitation” of Jackson from the state level. And Ashby Foote of Ward 1 is believed to be perfectly positioned inside city government to run the Republican game that has been playing out at the state level.
However, three council members – Angelique Lee of Ward 2, Brian Grizzell of Ward 4, and Virgi Lindsay of Ward 7 – have maintained their distance from Foote and have consistently demonstrated their concern for the citizens of Jackson rather than follow the Ashby Foote line.
Lee, vice president of the council, has revealed how Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann met with her and Foote in the summer of 2022 and devised a scheme for the city council to take control of the executive powers of the city, in effect staging a coup against Lumumba. Two legislative bills authored by the renegade and former Democrat Shanda Yates in 2022 and 2023 sought to block Jackson from accessing its own money from the state’s coffers and to strip away the mayor’s executive authority. The first bill passed and now forces Jackson to get the state treasurer’s permission to access its tax money and ARPA funds. The second bill, HB370, which would have allowed disgruntled voters to file a recall petition against the mayor, was voted down in early February 2023.
In an exclusive interview with the Jackson Advocate Monday afternoon, Lee revealed how the lieutenant governor sought to co-opt her as a part of the planned coup against the mayor. Hosemann proposed a plan to take over Jackson and its water system for 50 years, Lee said.
“Ashby Foote was already aware of the plan,” she said. “Delbert Hosemann said to him ‘Ashby, you already know about this plan. We’ve already talked about it.’ So, now it was their opportunity to talk to me.”
Lee rejected such a betrayal of her city outright. She told of this conspiracy at a Town Hall meeting in October 2022, but very little attention was paid to what she was saying.
Lee says the plotters are still at work, although they have slipped into the shadows for the present.
“Regarding the city’s garbage situation,” she said, “they have different interests that are fueling them. Some of it is just their pure hatred against the mayor. They’re obstructionists and are against anything the mayor proposes.”
When questioned outside his office door about his alleged meetings with Hosemann, Foote denied having been involved in any plots to disrupt city government.
“He met with me and Angelique Lee back in June or sometime,” he said. “I’m not the point man for any plot. I’m sorry. You got the wrong idea, you got the wrong message there.”
Lumumba said that he learned of the Republican plot and that he respected Lee for rejecting it.
“I’m aware of conversations between Delbert Hosemann and several council members,” he said. “I think that it’s troubling. It tries to rob the people of their voice. And I think the people need to unite to fight against such moves.”
A CITIZEN’S COMPLAINT
Marcus Branson, who lives near Hawkins Field, complained that his property had suffered extensive damage caused by drainage from Hawkins Field, where Richard’s trucks were parked early last year. He made it clear that he didn’t blame Richard’s.
“I always had a problem from the city where the water runs down into the neighborhood,” he said. “The question was not about Richard’s Disposal or his trucks being there. My problem occurred before Richard’s Disposal got there. My question is, who is in control up there and who do I need to speak to?”
Lumumba said the property is owned by the city but maintained by the airport.
The crowd continued with hard-hitting questions and strong opinions throughout the mayor’s press conference.
“The council members that are voting against Richard’s, have they ever articulated to you their reasons for voting against Richard’s?” one homeowner asked.
“They have not given me a bonafide reason that allowed me to move on it,” Lumumba responded. “There’ve been a lot of things like, ‘I’ve heard they’ve done a lot of things in New Orleans,’ only to find out that their contract has expanded there. They said, ‘I wonder if they can do it, or if they have the capacity.’ Well, they’ve been doing it for a year. So, I remain open for a meeting to better understand what those issues are.”
Several people urged the citizens to exercise their right to petition and confront the council.
“Everyone in this room needs to contact the four renegade council people by phone or email and let them know ‘I vote,’” one of the spirited women said. “And go door-to door like I have. I have prepared a petition to let them know that we are not in agreement with them. So, once they have started counting the vote, maybe they’ll have a change of heart.”
WORKING TOGETHER JACKSON
Charles Araujo, a homeowner in Ward 1 and a retired social worker in Jackson, is also a longtime member of Working Together Jackson, a broad-based coalition of community groups first chartered in 2013.
“I’m here to show support for the contract for Richard’s Disposal,” Araujo said. “It’s the lowest cost. As a Jacksonian, I’m for saving money, and I know that this is the lowest cost bid. I’m rather surprised that we’ve not been able to get the council to approve the contract. I want to see justice done.”
Ashby Foote passed by and said hello, as Araujo was telling of his opposition to the bills that the state legislature directed at Jackson specifically, although they tried to mask the bills by saying they applied statewide.
“Once when one of our legislators identified the hypocrisy in this, it was pretty clear what the target was and they went ahead and voted it down,” Araujo said.
“Ashby Foote is my council member,” he said. “And it’s going to be my intention to find someone else who will better represent Ward 1.”
Dist. 70 Rep. Bo Brown, a former councilmember of Ward 2, addressed the listening crowd toward the end of the press conference saying the real issue is about solving the problem.
“It’s not about the mayor,” Brown said. “It’s not about the council. It’s about the people. Therefore, something should be done, if only on an interim basis, to appease the people. Put the egos and politics aside and come up with a solution, even if it’s temporary, even if you have to bury your personal feelings about it. It’s not about my vote or your vote, it’s about solving the problem.”
Dist. 63 Rep. Stephanie McKenzie Foster, who is also the president of the Western Hills Subdivision Homeowners Association, said she was disappointed at how Jackson’s garbage issue has grown to be such an astounding problem.
“It’s a sad day here in the city of Jackson when the council and mayor could not come to an agreement to just pick up the garbage, something very simple,” Foster said. “You have senior citizens and disabled people around the city who have reached out to me. They have no means of transportation to take their garbage to the Metrocenter or wherever the drop-off locations are.”
“My question for the city is: How long are you going to punish the citizens of Jackson?”