Aaron Banks, Vernon Hartley, and Ashby Foote voted not to approve a proposed contract for garbage collection in the city of Jackson on Saturday, April 1st, the day after the emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal, Inc. expired. The rejection was solidified as Kenneth Stokes abstained, leaving it as less than a majority vote for the contract. Brian Grizzell, Angelique Lee, and Virgi Lindsey had voted to approve the contract.
The 3-3-1 vote slammed the door on Richard’s Disposal Inc., a Black company based in New Orleans. That fact was noted by Councilwoman Angelique Lee, as she presided over the city council meeting on Thursday, in the absence of Council President Ashby Foote. Lee excoriated what she considered the disrespect shown for the company by the apparent boycott of the meeting by the four councilmen opposed to granting a new six-year contract to Richard’s. It was pointed out that not only is the company owner Black, but most of its executives and street-level workers are Black. Jackson, thus, lost its first Black garbage collection contractor.
As the door was slammed on Richard’s, it was also slammed on scores of workers who live in Jackson. This, along with the fact that they were being paid a living wage, was being communicated in the council chamber on Saturday when Council President Foote began gaveling them down and threatening to put them out of the meeting. This was particularly odd since the meeting had not even been called to order.
Thirdly, the door was slammed on residents of the city, who had packed the council chamber in order to express their desire to see the Richard’s contract approved. Many of them have been very satisfied with, even complimentary of, the job done by the workers over the year in which they had served the city.
Jackson residents will now have to wait an undetermined number of days before there can be any resolution of the matter. There is not even one in sight. The impasse is that Mayor Lumumba prefers to save the city nearly $13 million by signing a contract with Richard’s. The majority of the council prefers re-opening the bid process. It is further complicated by the fact that only the mayor can propose a contract and only the council can approve one. Unless there are changes of hearts and minds, the city could be without garbage collection for quite some time.
The saga has been unfolding for more than a year. There had been optimism that it would be resolved with a long-awaited decision by the state Supreme Court. That decision, however, only set the timeline for ending the emergency contract, not the permanent status of the garbage collection dispute. Consequently, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba called a special meeting on March 30.
At the March 30 meeting, in the absence of Banks, Foote, Hartley, and Stokes, it was stated that the mayor’s preference was based on the money that would be saved by the city with the Richard’s contract; that re-opening the bid process would mean that each of the recent three companies would agree only to a larger or more expensive contract; that the current workers would lose their jobs; and that Richard’s has proven itself capable and preferred by residents. The council members who have generally voted against retaining Richard’s were not present at the meeting to counter those assertions nor to express why they were opposed to a contract with Richard’s.
In the absence of satisfactory answers/explanations, rumors of bribery freely circulated. They had been heard earlier, but increased following the Thursday and Saturday meetings. The same is true of complaints of what appeared to be personal animosity. More than a few residents complained that such public disputes play into the hands of those state legislators who are already opposed to Jackson as a political entity.
At the brief Saturday meeting, there were no explanations of why the proposed contract with Richard’s should not be approved. Councilman Banks asked whether the proposed contract would see an increase in July based on a new consumer product index (CPI), to which the attorney for the city responded that there would be none before July 2024, and that whether there would be an increase or a decrease would depend upon a new federally-announced CPI and that at any rate it would apply to any company chosen. Councilman Hartley stated that proposed contracts with Richard’s had been rejected numerous times. Mayor Lumumba retorted that such contracts had been rejected only twice.
As the meeting continued to be contentious, Councilman Stokes offered two motions. The first was that the COVID protocols be enforced, meaning that the meeting room be cleared of all persons above the limit legally allowed. That motion was defeated. His second motion was that the company Waste Management be substituted for Richard’s Disposal in the proposed contract. It was met with an explanation that only the mayor could propose a contract. That motion was then defeated. At that point, the question was called and the vote was taken on the proposed contract. As it was not approved, the meeting room erupted with shouts of disapproval and the meeting was adjourned by Councilman Foote.
Mayor Lumumba spoke to a crowd in the foyer, assuring the Richard’s workers that he would meet with his team to try and come up with a way to save their jobs and have regular garbage collection. At the same time, Councilmen Banks, Foote, and Hartley held a news conference at nearby Martin and Martin law firm, at which time Hartley was recorded as being opposed to what he said is “contract stirring” and suggested that the city is under “lawlessness” and needs to be changed.
As this writing goes to press, Councilman Banks has proposed a 90-day emergency contract with Richard’s until there can be a third party, neutral evaluator put in place and a new “request for proposals” process started. Even if that or some other proposal is adopted, the door has been slammed, leaving Richard’s Disposal, the local workers, and Jackson’s residents to needlessly suffer until the matter is resolved.