By Christopher Young,
Listening to tape of and discussing with a colleague who was there – the Special Jackson City Council meeting Saturday, April 1, 2023 was no April Fool’s Day joke, it was downright embarrassing. The agenda had one item:
“1. ORDER AUTHORIZING THE MAYOR TO EXECUTE THE CONTRACT AND RELATED DOCUMENTS WITH RICHARD’S DISPOSAL, INC. TO PROVIDE SOLID WASTE COLLECTION AND HAULING SERVICES FOR A SIX (6) YEAR TERM COMMENCING APRIL 1, 2023 WITH FOUR (4) ONE (1) YEAR EXTENSION OPTIONS (ALL WARDS).”
The vote on the agenda item was 3-3-1. Councilmembers Angelique Lee, Dr. Brian Grizzell and Virgi Lindsay voted in favor. Councilmembers Ashby Foote, Vernon Hartley and Aaron Banks voted against. Councilmember Kenneth Stokes abstained. The vote tally leaves our city with no contract, emergency or otherwise, and trash is now starting to pile up.
So this is where we are, over eighteen months into the Request for Proposals (RFP) process, initiated by our mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
Waste Management had the contract for decades, and the taxpayers were paying dearly. A new RFP process would allow competition, almost always leading to better pricing.
Numerous iterations followed, three cycles of RFPs, but in the end it was apparent that the majority of councilmembers wanted to stay with Waste Management, which meant them ignoring or deciding to overlook, the millions in savings that was revealed in a blind-bidding process during the most recent RFP. The mayor responded by ordering Richard’s Disposal to go to work for a one-year period on April 1, 2022, and the city council sued the mayor, and he sued right back, each costing the city still untold hundreds of thousands of dollars, and going all the way to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, who ruled that the mayor does not have the authority to override/veto and negative action/no action of the council.
God knows it was rocky at the start for Richard’s Disposal, the black-owned firm from New Orleans, and The Mississippi Link newspaper has written extensively about all the details.
While complaints are not unusual in the garbage collection business, with more time on the job in Jackson, it’s rare to hear about them anymore. Additionally, of the 82 workers that Richard’s has in Jackson, 80 live in Jackson and are part of our community and our economy. They are paid a living wage. When speaking to various workers over time, it is clear they have pride in their work and in their company. Now, without any form of contract or agreement to collect trash, they continue to be paid by their employer.
Working Together Jackson is a broad-based coalition of institutions committed to collaborative strategies to help solve problems facing Jackson. Their organizations cross all racial, religious and economic lines. From the very beginning of the trash debacle, they have been involved and showing up, endeavoring to broker solutions. On Tuesday, April 4, 2023, many of their members took to the streets in Ward 3, accompanied by many Richard’s workers. They provided contractor-grade trash bags, a comprehensive fact sheet and encouragement to call their councilmember, Kenneth Stokes.
Many of the workers reside in Ward 3, as trash has begun piling up there too. There have been reports of residents coming out of their homes to speak with not only Working Together Jackson, but with the Richard’s workers that were walking the neighborhood right alongside them – and that these residents overwhelmingly support Richard’s Disposal to pick up their trash.
Richard’s employees have showed up in large numbers at the last two Special City Council meetings. These are hard workers, doing the hardest of jobs – collecting our trash – who are now fighting for their jobs in Jackson.
Most of the council refused to pay the company for its first six months – then under pressure, conceded, and began paying the owed back-pay, but on an incremental basis. Think that one through.
Councilmembers Angelique Lee and Dr. Brian Grizzell have always held the line for a change in solid waste collection vendor, seemingly based on price. Councilwoman Lindsay initially voted in favor of what became known as the Richard’s bid, but then reversed course and voted against the change. Councilmembers Foote, Stokes, Hartley, Sr., and Banks have been steadfast in their resistance to changing vendors.
There certainly have been questions as to why these councilmembers are so opposed to Richard’s Disposal becoming our new trash collection provider, saving the city millions per year. And they are still doing so, even after this company has clearly demonstrated its ability to do the job.
And so, it is obvious now – even more strongly than before – that these folks want to preserve the status quo, which means keeping Waste Management. It ends up begging the question, even before the trash began to pile up in our city, are these four councilmembers more anti-Mayor (and the improvements he tries to bring), or are they more pro-residents of Jackson? These four councilmembers know the true answer, and with each passing day their constituents do too.
On April 4, Ross Adams of WAPT provided footage of Stokes honoring the anniversary of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr assassination on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis – 55 years ago – in Memphis to support the rights of sanitation workers. And God bless Stokes for his efforts remembering our beloved Dr. King. The irony though, is unavoidable – Stokes, a black man, has spent the last eighteen plus months doing everything in his power to resist a black contractor coming into our black city to collect our trash.
Just today I was reminded by a new friend of the words of Ella Baker – strong people don’t need strong leaders – and so it’s on us Jackson. In the most foul-smelling way, we have some councilmembers who are serving themselves far more than those they were elected to serve.