Community voices heard loud and clear at College Hill

Mayor Lumumba leading community meeting at College Hill Church, Sept. 12, 2022. Photo by Christopher Young

By Christopher Young,

Contributing Writer,

Socrates Garrett asking questions regarding City of Jackson’s destiny.
Photo by Jackie Hampton

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba held a community meeting at College Hill Baptist Church Tuesday night and the residents of Jackson were surely heard; sometimes through tears and other times through resolute exclamations that the City of Jackson is not for sale.

The meeting was focused on the water crisis and the mayor painstakingly laid out where we have been, where we are now, and where we need to go moving forward. He shared numerous graphics, capital improvement plans, specific infrastructure requests made of the state, personal letters that have gone unanswered, and gave credit to a long line of past mayors who have sought help with infrastructure issues but been largely ignored.

He made his case against privatization, against a regional plan, and against a state takeover of Jackson’s water and sewer services. He is, however, advocating for a third-party operations and maintenance agreement.

Chief Financial Officer Fidelis Malembeka articulated a lengthy list of aspects related to revenue and expenditure realities that Jackson is dealing with and spared no detail. He indicated that the City Council had recently adopted the 2023 budget including $30.8 million for sewer projects. He mentioned that $34 of Jackson’s $42 million in ARPA funds will go toward water and sewer infrastructure, and with the State indicating a dollar-for-dollar match, it will be very helpful, but that more will be needed. He also mentioned Hinds County recently deciding to share $17 million of their ARPA funds with Jackson, which will also be matched by the State. He stressed numerous plans that have been shared with many entities and went into the EPA Consent Decree and that negotiations are ongoing yet currently more cannot be revealed about those negotiations due to a non-disclosure agreement.

Malembeka also mentioned being able to borrow money from the state through the State Revolving Loan Fund; low interest rate loans. And mentioned that Mississippi has received $75 million this year for water and sewer infrastructure, but that 51% is added to the State Revolving Loan Fund, whereas 49% become funds to be used as grants. He reiterated that Jackson should be viewed by the state as a disadvantaged community and be eligible for significant grants in addition to loans.

In the crowd of approximately 250, many sought out a microphone when the mayor began to field questions. It was well noted by numerous residents who spoke that the event was poorly attended by our elected officials. FEMA, MEMA and EPA were represented. One member of the seventeen members of the Hinds County delegation was present, State Senator Sollie Norwood. One of the five members of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors was present, President Credell Calhoun. One of the seven members of the Jackson City Council was present, Ward 4 Councilman Dr. Brian Grizzell.

Ronald Gilbert, former O. B. Curtis operations supervisor
Photo by Christopher Young

Evelyn Ford tearfully complained that on Sunday when she went to pick up water for herself and elderly neighbors at Smith Wills Stadium, the attendant directed her to a tent when she indicated that she needed more than two cases of water. She reported that a State Trooper came, put his lights on her, and asked her for her license, and she asked him if there was a problem and he said, “let me see your license, and indicated that she was being disrespectful to the attendant.” Then a man in fatigues came up and told her that she could go to Wal-Mart to get water.” Eventually she was told to leave. “I felt humiliated. We already have a hard enough time.” The mayor responded full-heartedly and assured her that nobody should make you feel like you’re begging.

A gentleman spoke about infrastructure needs in Woodhaven and that he has never known Governor Reeves or his predecessor to ever hold a community meeting in Jackson. A former O.B. Curtis Operations supervisor spoke about the importance of quality upfront hiring paired with meaningful training to achieve their qualification. “I went to Georgia and doubled my salary,” he stated.

Socrates Garrett asked how the state can take over negations with a contractor without the state having taken over the water plant, and then asked how do we get a united community to take on Jackson’s problems or are you able to get the cooperation from the Hinds County delegation of elected officials, are you able to get the supervisors and the council people to take on this fight collectively so that Jackson maintains it’s independence and controls its destiny? 

Pastor DeWayne Pickett indicated that there is no way to get unity without honesty. He questioned why our Hinds County delegation would write a letter and send it to the governor requesting a special session before meeting with you – talking about what is needed for Jackson without talking to the mayor and administration of Jackson first. “Why would Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann give instructions to certain council members and a state senator regarding the city of Jackson, and we know now where he stands now – he wants to regionalize the system, it’s not a secret anymore.” “Why would the City Council be discussing things with the Lt. Governor about the garbage contract – that’s a part-time job – over and over we are seeing the same thing happen and the people of this city deserve the truth. I watch the City Council slicing the budget on some things, they want to save money, but they want to award a contract to somebody who is $12 million higher. Those people got to be called to the carpet and then redeemed to serve. One of the things, regardless of who you voted for, when you don’t want a mayor Lumumba to succeed, or a Thomas Hudson to succeed, or a Ashley Robinson to succeed, or a Tameka Reed to succeed, you don’t want Jackson to succeed, yet you allow other elected officials to do everything possible to destroy what this young man from Jackson, Mississippi has tried to be.”

Jackson residents listening and waiting to speak at community meeting called by Mayor Lumumba regarding water crisis. Photo by Jackie Hampton

The mayor proposes that Richard’s be allowed to complete the first year of collection services and to put it to a referendum for the residents of Jackson to vote on.

Sherri Jones stated that he has heard time after time that the city does not have a plan and you proved tonight that is wrong. “I went to a US Senators office about three months ago and asked him what he is doing about the crime rate in Jackson and about the water issue. Flint is getting ready to send people here to test water at the tap and they are going to work with the young people here to develop a lab so that our young people have something to do besides tote guns.” He also spoke about the comments by Ford and challenged the men to step up and hold those people accountable. 

In responding to a question from a resident who made several complaints and expressed that things have not improved since she was a little girl, the mayor stated, “No matter if you are talking about how our babies feel, whether you’re talking about feeling like you are not heard and no one’s answering, that pothole in the middle of the street, the fact that we have been dealing with decades of water insecurity – are all part of a cycle of humiliation. We have to restore dignity, a dignity economy – sustainable development goals; sustainable infrastructure, schools and economic development.”

Danyelle Holmes, a 31-year Jackson resident and with the National Poor Peoples Campaign stated that our elected officials need to be checked, and “the foolishness that is going on in our City Hall with our City Council has highjacked our city and that’s what’s going on. Our city is being held hostage; business can’t go on as usual, and it’s going to take the citizens to take a stand and challenge these elected officials to do what is right, and to take the city of Jackson off the for-sale block. Jackson is for sale under the table, they are running a cult, and Jackson is not for sale. She announced that there will be an event September 26, details to follow, “and we are going to have a speak out and we are going to nationalize the issues in Jackson, and we are going to nationalize the voices of those who have been impacted.”

The mayor wrapped up the evening sharing that he told someone in a very senior state position, who he did not name, that, “If it does not benefit my people, I’m going to fight you to the death.”

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