Public interest groups call for ‘transparency’ in Jackson water crisis aired in federal courtroom

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The big question at Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting in Ward 5 was: “Is Jackson’s water safe to drink?” Water system manager Ted Henifin, with microphone, said it all in one word: “Absolutely.” Henifin reassured the audience of about 100 that he drinks the city water and there is no reason for city residents to be afraid to drink it. Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley, center, host of the meeting at Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, claimed that he also drinks the water pumped through the Jackson water system. Jacobs Solutions communications director Tepricka Morgan is on the right. Slight discoloration and low pipe pressure should not be taken as a sign of undrinkable water. Complaints of too-high billings and faulty meters dominated the question-and-answer segment of the program. Henifin said the move of the call center to Pearl was necessary because of the expertise of the new center and shortage of personnel and equipment at the Jackson Metro Mall. New meters will be distributed throughout the Jackson system by the end of the year, Henifin said. Readjustments to faulty bills can be made by calling 601-500-5200 or at email: (Advocate photo: Joshua Martin)

Representatives of over 30 Jackson community organizations weighed in on what they called a lack of communication and participation for the public in the ongoing water crisis the city has been facing for a number of years and should be on the way to solving under a federally-appointed third party manager.

Federal Judge Henry T. Wingate convened the July 12-13 status conference after many Black, Brown and public interest representatives petitioned the court to be included as interested parties in the court’s oversight of the restoration of clean drinking water for the approximately 155,000 residents dependent on the Jackson water system.

Members of the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, in a combined force of 30-plus community organizations, took the lead in supplying drinking water to all of Jackson, especially to the underserved community, during several crises. The coalition had agreed to the federal Stipulated Order that appointed Third Party Manager Ted Henifin in November 2022 to rehabilitate Jackson’s water system.

Since then, however, coalition spokespersons have complained to the court that Henifin’s organization, JXN Water, has failed to include and collaborate with the community in its decisions and business dealings, something that was promised to the community at the beginning, according to some coalition members.

Danyelle Holmes, National Justice Manager for the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign and a member of the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, was one of Henifin’s harshest critics at the Thursday court session.

“In doing this work and meeting Mr. Henifin, we first welcomed him,” she said. Henifin made several commitments to the community, she said. One of these was transparency with the people and the city of Jackson. Another was that of Jackson’s control over its own water system, without the threat of privatization or a state takeover. Holmes said the new third-party manager also made a commitment to hold meetings to keep the community updated. But he has failed to keep these commitments, she said. 

Wingate asked  the petitioners at least a dozen times about their definition of “transparency,” a consistent theme in the complaints about the information they were receiving or not receiving from Henifin. He also asked if their concern for transparency was something new that had just begun with the installation of Henifin as manager of the Jackson water supply system.


A core part of the Stipulated Order  required Henifin to “regularly consult with (Jackson’s) Director of Public Works on all aspects of complying with this Stipulated Order and advise, consult, and collaborate with the Director of Public Works and consult with EPA and MDEQ on matters that may, in the judgment of the ITPM, materially impact the Sewer System.”

Holmes was particularly agitated over the promotion and salary of Jordan Hillman, Jackson’s deputy director of public works, who was given the title of Chief Operating Officer (COO) of  JXN Water with a major boost in pay that adds $130,000 from JXN Water to the $70,000 per annum the city already pays her. Hillman thus gets a total of $200,000 a year, a figure that Henifin justified in saying that she works very hard on a 24/7 basis. 

Holmes also said there was widespread community resentment over the termination of JXN Water’s former Chief Experience Officer Tariq Abdul-Tawwab without an explanation. Tawwab reportedly was working out the details of a debt relief plan to reduce some of the outlandish charges thousands of Jackson’s poorest households were facing on past water bills. 

Judge Wingate touched upon Tawwab’s firing in court Thursday, but said it was a personnel matter and would not be a part of the courtroom discussion.


The Rapid Response Coalition is made up of the People’s Advocacy Institute, Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign, One Voice MS, Southern Poverty Law Center, Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity (IAJE), Alternate ROOTS, Mississippi Moves, Operation Good, Strong Arms of Mississippi, Mississippi Black Women’s RoundTable, among others. 

The city was already facing stiff penalties from the Environmental Protection Agency in August 2022 when its water system broke down completely due to the flooding of the Pearl River and emergencies were declared by city, state, and federal governments to supply emergency water until the system was restored to acceptable operating standards.

Rukia Lumumba, an attorney, is executive director of the People’s Advocacy Institute and co-founder of the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, and is affiliated with many other community interest organizations.  The older sister of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and daughter of the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, Rukia Lumumba says the citizens of Jackson should be assured that they will maintain ownership and control over their water system. And she called for an ombudsperson acting on behalf of the people of Jackson to have a guaranteed seat at the  table for all decisions concerning the city’s water.


Okolo Rashid, executive director and CEO of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures (IMMC) located in downtown Jackson, revealed to the court that she and her co-workers have gained significant progress in developing Jackson into a Beloved Community. 

She gained the unanimous approval of the mayor and city council in March 2022, she said, in their support of developing the City of Jackson Beloved Community Pilot, an idea once advocated by Martin Luther King.

“Disputes are to be resolved by peaceful conflict resolution, equity, and healing, instead of violence,” she said. “We have begun building significant partnerships. And we’ve been very involved in the water crisis. We’ve partnered with Islamic Solutions USA and with the Rapid Response Coalition, People’s Assembly Institute, and other partners here to distribute thousands of  bottles of water. We’ve helped in the clean-up of the city of Jackson, (sponsored) a number of community engagements, meeting groups, and getting inputs from the community.” 


Wingate also called on two EPA representatives in the courtroom regarding the EPA’s continuing role in the Stipulated Order placed under his judicial authority last November.

“If this agreement falls through,” Wingate said, “then we go back to the lawsuit. And at that point this court has to make a determination whether the city is in violation and if so whether the United States is entitled to the relief it seeks.”

In other words, if the current operations of the city’s water system under Henifin’s management cannot be consummated as it is spelled out in the original Stipulated Order, the city of Jackson will be faced with the task of restoring its own water system up to EPA and state requirements and incurring all the expenses needed for the work.  

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Public interest groups call for ‘transparency’ in Jackson water crisis aired in federal courtroom

By Earnest McBride
July 24, 2023