Commentary: No end in sight – Trash Collection Saga – Part 2

By Christopher Young,

Contributing Writer,

In Part 1 of this series a timeline of significant events in what has become the trash collection saga was detailed, covering a period from March 2021 until April 1, 2022. A majority of Jackson City Council members (Banks, Foote, Hartley and Stokes) voted down awarding a trash collection contract to a new vendor, FCC Environmental Services, in August 2021. The contract with Waste Management, who had held it for nearly 35 years, was due to expire a month later.

Then came emergency declarations with a local company being submitted for a temporary emergency contract. That was nullified de facto by legal maneuvering with the council filing suit against the mayor, then coming to an agreement to avoid further litigation, by giving Waste Management another six months. 

Starting in January of this year, new bids from a new Request for Proposal (RFP) process, which included the same three bidders, were considered. This process, unlike the first, was blind. No one knew the identities of the bidders, and between the three of them, four different options were put forth and brought before council for their consideration. The list was whittled down to two options by the council and it was now up to the mayor to make a selection. 

All seemed well for a moment until Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba selected the option/company that would save the city $1.2 million per year. Once that name was revealed – and it was determined that it was not Waste Management, the chaos began again. The majority of the council voted down awarding the new contract to Richard’s Disposal twice; with Banks, Foote, Hartley and Lindsay who flipped from her previous position. Lee and Grizzell were in favor and Stokes abstained.

Citing a caveat in a recent ruling by Special Judge Dickenson, the mayor vetoed the majority vote of the council April 1, and issued an emergency order to proceed with Richard’s Disposal. 

Law suits were filed soon thereafter and eventually retired Judge Larry Roberts of Meridian, the second special judge to hear related matters, was appointed. Then came the first invoice from Richard’s Disposal for $808,035 and on May 24 the council voted 5-2 (Lee and Grizzell opposed) to remove the invoice from the claims docket. 

On July 8, after a hearing in Hinds County Chancery Court, Judge Roberts ruled that that the mayor can’t veto a no vote by the council. Richard’s had been picking up trash for over three full months by the time of that ruling. The mayor has 30 days to decide whether to appeal Judge Robert’s ruling. 

Since the clock started ticking on those 30 days, two significant things have happened. First, on July 13, Richard’s Disposal filed suit for payment in the amount of $1.6 million and has requested a jury trial, and second, on July 19 in executive session, the council voted to deny any request by the mayor for the city to pay for him to appeal the decision to a higher court, and also changes to the city council legal team – which results in even more taxpayer dollars being spent, as reported by WLBT; details of those votes were not contained in the report.

Speaking of taxpayer dollars, by mid-June, reports from several sources revealed the legal fees for this ordeal had cost the taxpayers of Jackson more than $161,000 with no end in sight. And now we have the City Council deciding they can have unconstrained access to taxpayer money for their legal expenses, but they say the mayor should be treated differently. Again, we don’t know the details of the vote to constrain the mayor’s ability to appeal with city funds. 

In another twist, the City Council keeps adding attorneys to their legal roster. By last count attorneys Deshun Martin, John Scanlon, Jerry Mills and Zachary Giddy were added. Does that seem excessive? Would these City Council members hire four attorneys to represent them if they were personally paying the tab?

It’s that grandiosity, i.e. we can hire four attorneys at $250 per hour each, but you can’t have any funds to appeal, that really sticks out about this group. They claim to be serving the city, but they fight vehemently to keep a contractor that has been hoodwinking the city for decades.

In case we forget, the City of Jackson starts and stops and modifies contracts all the time. Every city does, it’s totally normal. You have contracts for paper products, copiers, vehicles, consulting services, home-delivered meals for the elderly, security guards at the water plants, contracts to replace bridges, contracts to demolish buildings – contracts happen every month of the year. No big deal. But if you are the mayor of Jackson, trying to get a better deal for the city, God help you. The majority of this council forbids the mayor from altering the trash collection contract in any way.

At first I was really confused by all this behavior by the majority of the Jackson City Council, then I was baffled. The more it goes on though it looks like malfeasance. And this harmful behavior by select members of the City Council has three prongs: 1) turning their back on a $1.2 million per year cost savings because it seems they are beholden to the old company, 2) burdening the taxpayer with unnecessary legal expenses that continue to balloon, and 3) diverting their attention from so many other important issues while they are fixated on this trash collection contract.

It is easily noted that council members Lee and Grizzell are the exceptions here.

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