The other crises in Jackson continue, as the water crisis dominates the new cycle

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Water drive in Jackson, MS (Advocate Photo by Joshua Martin)

Residents have come to expect the daily briefings from Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and/or Governor Tate Reeves on the water crisis in Jackson. They keep hoping for an end to the boil water notices. They keep hoping for a final fix for the water system. Unfortunately, they may need a lot of patience. Mayor Lumumba continues to remind everybody that what is being dealt with is only the “emergency” aspect of the problem, that the water crisis is not likely to be over anytime soon since the system is plagued with the aged pipes that distribute the water to individual homes and businesses. Their replacement will take much more time and money than is available anytime soon.

The water crisis has made and remained in the national news because the emergency aspect of the problem got so out of hand until the federal government was literally forced to step in. Pleas to the state for assistance had gone unheeded from one legislative session to the next for nearly a decade.  The influence of Congressman Bennie Thompson had a great deal to do with President Joe Biden sending aid this time around. Rather than being totally embarrassed, Governor Reeves also stepped in with state relief. Meanwhile, he somewhat reluctantly praised Biden’s signing of an emergency declaration. 

The attention surrounding the federal and state assistance helped thrust Jackson’s water crisis into the national spotlight. The problem with water and sewage had put Jackson under the gun for the last several administrations. In the face of that problem, however, the Republican-dominated state legislature and administration had turned a deaf ear to the Democratic-dominated city and administration. Instead, the legislature had passed and the governor had signed a massive tax cut for large businesses and wealthy individuals, leaving Jackson with its problem and the public schools and healthcare system in dire need.

As Jackson receives tremendous publicity surrounding its water crisis, other crises have receded into the background. The problems with deteriorating streets and bridges, obscene gun violence, and the unresolved garbage collection contract are still alive and well, just not as well publicized.

The city has received some help in dealing with its roads and bridges through the infrastructure bill championed by the Democrats and the Biden administration, but opposed by Republicans in the Senate and the House, including those from Mississippi. That money, along with allocations from Hinds County and the 1% Sales Tax Commission, has enabled Jackson to make a dent in the problem of street and bridge repairs.

The problem is so large, however, until it will be years before it can be resolved. In addition to the county and the city’s own efforts, it will take assistance from the federal and state governments to catch up after so many years of neglect. It has been predicted by some observers that, at the rate of the work today, by the time that every street is repaired, those first addressed will be in serious need again.

Not much is said about the problem of Jackson’s bad streets nowadays because the water is in the news. Nevertheless, the street problem is still critical because the state has turned its back, not even permitting local taxing measures such as a toll or income taxes to be imposed on non-residents, that could help. The problem will again rear its head or be recognized as the water crisis abates.

In a similar fashion, the problem of gun violence has not gone away or subsided. It is simply being overshadowed by the water crisis. In the midst of the gun violence problem, Republican leaders have decided to not curb access to guns, but have provided tax breaks for gun purchasers instead. They refuse to deal with access to guns, claiming to be concerned about second amendment rights. Meanwhile, in addition to the carnage of gangs and crimes of passion, there is the continuation of the phenomenon of terrorism from white militia and hate groups.

The problem of the threat and the reality of gun violence may be muted now because of the all-consuming concern over the water crisis. Hopefully, we can soon put the emergency phase of the water problem behind us and get back to the other crises that are lurking like a thief in the night.

Thirdly, there is the garbage collection dispute, which at any moment could burst into a crisis. It is not already a crisis only because Richard’s Disposal continues to collect garbage despite not having been paid for nearly six months. 

The mayor and the city council continue to remain at odds over a temporary contract, a permanent contract, and the payment for work already completed. Their legal disputes have gone unabated. The mayor has sued the council; the council has sued the mayor; and the company has sued the city. After one judge apparently screwed up the matter, word now is that it may be quite a while before the courts resolve it. 

Earlier this week, Mayor Lumumba announced that he will place the garbage collection contract before the citizens through a referendum, allowing them to decide the matter. There are already questions as to whether or not such a move is legal. There is speculation that he is counting on the majority of citizens to side with his position rather than that of the council majority. There is also the fact that Richard’s Disposal has conducted itself in such a manner as to win the support of many citizens. 

The bottom line here, however, is that the garbage collection dispute is a crisis in the making. Like the other problems facing Jackson, citizens would do well not to forget or neglect it just because there is water crisis on the news every day. 

Of the four crises, the garbage collection dispute is the easiest to fix, but pressure may need to come from residents to have the officials resolve it rather than continue the bickering and payment of money in legal expenses. If nothing else, this could help restore confidence in the officials involved and enable some of the money to be used on the water and sewage, streets and bridges, and gun violence problems. It would also enable these local officials to unite more closely in resolving the other crises mentioned herein.

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The other crises in Jackson continue, as the water crisis dominates the new cycle

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
September 15, 2022