Confusion surrounds actions taken by council in Tuesday executive session

Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 7:39 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 11, 2022 at 8:55 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Confusion surrounds the actions taken by the Jackson City Council in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.

On October 11th, the council met in executive session for more than an hour to discuss the city’s ongoing trash woes.

Following the meeting, council attorney Deshun Martin said the council was moving forward with Waste Management and the company would likely begin picking up trash in the city once the Mississippi Supreme Court hands down a ruling in a case involving the mayor’s veto powers.

He said that Waste Management had been alerted of the council’s decision.

“The council went into executive session to discuss all things garbage. It was publicly noted, duly noted on their list of items that delineated what [the council] would do today. In that list of delineated items, [were] all things garbage,” he said.

Council President Ashby Foote contradicted Martin’s claim, saying members hadn’t hired anybody, and that it only passed an order requiring the mayor to “continue the RFP that the mayor abandoned in 2022.”

Last October, the city issued a request for proposals to bring on a waste-hauling firm. The New Orleans-based Richard’s was chosen during the RFP review process, but the council voted down the contract multiple times.

RFPs are issued by local governments seeking professional services, such as trash pickup. Proposals are evaluated based on a rubric included in the RFP and the highest score is typically taken to the city’s legislative body for approval.

Richard’s began work in the city on April 1, under a one-year emergency contract awarded by the mayor. The council, though, never approved the contract, voting it down twice at a meeting the day Richard’s took over.

Mayor Lumumba vetoed the council’s decision, saying a previous judge gave him a pathway to keep the firm on even without the council’s support.

Since then, though the council has refused to pay the company, saying it can’t pay for work that was never contacted.

“Some of these council members might buckle under the pressure, but I’ve been here too damn long to let somebody pressure me,” Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes said Tuesday. “I am not going to pay $5 million back, because if we give money away illegally, you don’t pay it back, but these council members got to pay it back. And I can’t afford it. And I’m not paying a dime back.”

In July, Richard’s filed suit against Jackson seeking months of back payment, and last week, the company announced it would cease collections if it did not get paid.

On Friday, the council announced that it had reached an agreement to pay Richard’s $4.8 million for the six months of work already completed and agreed to keep the company on at the same rate until a decision is made in the veto case.

At the time, Foote and council attorneys said several details still had to be worked out, including where the city would find the money to pay the settlement, and whether the settlement would be paid in a lump sum or in installments.

On Tuesday, Martin gave the impression that a settlement had been finalized, telling the press the council voted by “supermajority” to resolve the matter with Richard’s, and to pay for work that had already been completed.

Foote contradicted that claim as well, saying an agreement had not been hammered out. “We’re still working to get a settlement agreement that can be accepted by a federal judge,” he said. “At the same time, we still want to continue garbage pickup.”

He also questioned whether the council would have to vote to accept a settlement agreement if the court ordered one to be paid.

Meanwhile, whether Richard’s is allowed to stay on could be determined by the state’s highest court.

The council and mayor are seeking a ruling on whether the mayor can veto a negative vote of the council. The case was appealed to the state’s high court after special appointed Chancery Judge Larry Roberts ruled the mayor could not.

If the supreme court upholds that ruling, it is likely that the emergency contract with Richard’s is not valid.

Martin expects the court to hand down a decision late this year or early next year, and that Richard’s will likely stay on until January.

Gloria Green, an attorney for Richard’s, said was planning to reach out to find out what happened. Until then, she said it would be difficult to comment.

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