By Brad Franklin
JA Managing Editor
Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s state of emergency has been rescinded. On Wednesday, the city council voted 4-2 to rescind the declaration, but there is still no plan in place for garbage pick up when the current agreement ends on Sept. 30th.
In a special meeting on Tuesday, Lumumba said the city would have to go through another round of proposals before choosing a company. He originally presented FCC Environmental Services as a replacement last month, but city council members voted 4-3 against that proposal, citing the change to “one-day-a-week” service as a factor.
The mayor says that waste is being dumped illegally around the city and residents in West and South Jackson regularly experience inconsistent service.
“What we have now is a history of promises being made, but then not fulfilling those promises,” the mayor said. “And so I couldn’t, in good conscience, enter into an agreement, right?”
In a recent editorial, he wrote that rates would increase regardless of who the city chooses.
“It has been over 12 years since our residents have seen an increase and with millions of dollars going uncollected every year,” Lumumba said. “It is my responsibility to account for these shortfalls. Simply, if it’s not addressed soon, we will continue to operate in the red. It’s important for our citizens to know that their rates would increase either way.”
On Friday, September 17, Lumumba declared a local emergency when negotiations with Waste Management had stalled. If the city can not properly collect and dispose of garbage it will lead to civil penalties of up to $25,000 a day and other legal actions by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Under that declaration, the city was not bound by normal procedures and didn’t have to issue requests for proposals as long as the services were used for addressing the emergency. Contracts were also not subject to council approval.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks said that the council didn’t know if it was legal for him to do so. He added that, per state RFP and Procurement laws, he was not sure if this would even qualify as an emergency.
“When you’re talking about an emergency, you’re talking about peril or a loss of life. You’re asking another entity, like the state, to come in and help and we’re not at that point,” Banks said. “I think the due diligence needs to be done by the administration to work out a deal that’s best for the citizens.”
Banks feels the only reason FCC scored so high is because of the once-a-week pick up, but he believes the citizens overwhelmingly want twice a week.
“It was the increase in price but decrease in service that became one of the factors,” he said. “There was also a question of whether or not FCC would have had the number of trucks needed for Jackson pick up on October 1. It was a question of capacity.”
Banks said that, had the proposal been introduced in a more timely fashion, the outcome would have been different. Former Ward 4 Councilman De’Keither Stamps says that’s a scenario that plays out all too often at the city level. He says he pushed for this contract issue to be solved months before he left office in July.
“This is what happens when you push the approval to the last month. We went through this the last time Waste Management’s contract came up (during the Yarber administration) and we waited until a month before.” Stamps said. “You’re telling the council that you’ve got to vote for this whether you agree with it or not, because if you don’t, there won’t be anyone to pick the garbage up.”
Stamps says he has told council members that they may have no choice but to go with the mayor’s suggestion because anything else puts the city in a quagmire that they don’t want to be in.
“This is a public trust issue. I don’t think there’s a lot of it for any level of government. Not just the city,” he said. “Local government is catching the brunt of that because of low public confidence. When confidence is this low it’s hard to change anything.”
Waste Management has held a city contract since 1985. Lumumba says they have offered short and long term agreements but have pulled back their options. He says that, for years, the city has operated with millions of dollars of a shortfall in collections. The city has been forced to borrow money from the reserve fund. Lumumba says not only is this inadvisable, it has a direct result on the city’s credit rating.
In response, Waste Management attorney Chase Bryan referred to a letter sent to Lumumba and city attorney Terry Williamson on August 30th that refutes the mayor’s assertions.
“The letter shows the firm was willing to offer the city additional services if customers would pay an extra $3.70 a month,” the letter stated. “Those add-ons included a dedicated call center that would be set up in Jackson and would be used exclusively to serve Jackson customers, as well as three additional boom trucks to pick up out-of-compliance bulk and yard waste, which they said would help address illegal dumping.”
Mayor Lumumba proposed Waste Management offer a one-year deal but the RFP did not require that.
“Waste Management will not provide a one-year proposal and instead requests the city follow its RFP and state law, and consider Waste Management’s proposal for a six-year contract.” Bryan said in the letter.
Voting in favor of the measures were councilmembers Virgi Lindsay, Ashby Foote, Aaron Banks, and Vernon Hartley. Opposed were councilmembers Angelique Lee and Brian Grizzell.
During the state of emergency, Lumumba had chosen to hire a group that included local businessman Socrates Garrett. A copy of that contract had already been filed with the city clerk’s office. An agenda item for the council’s Tuesday meeting included bringing on Waste Management for another six years. No action was taken and no discussion was held on that item.