Jackson city leaders at odds over who will pick up garbage come April 1

Crews with Richard's Disposal pick up trash in Jackson.
Crews with Richard's Disposal pick up trash in Jackson.(WLBT)
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 2:52 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With just days to go before Jackson’s emergency garbage contract ends, city leaders are unsure who will be picking up residents’ trash come April 1.

Documents released by the administration show just one firm appears to be poised to provide the service – the company already doing the work.

At the same time, a court case that could give the Jackson City Council permission to bring on a hauling provider if the mayor fails to do so is languishing in Hinds County Chancery Court.

A summons in the case was issued on February 10, but was not delivered until February 28, according to court records. The mayor has 30 days to respond.

Even after the mayor responds, it’s not clear a decision could be handed down before Richard’s Disposal’s contract ends. And if the court rules in favor of the council, it’s not likely a firm chosen by the council in such a short time could mobilize by April 1.

Council President Ashby Foote blames the current situation on Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and says his inaction is designed to force the council to continue with Richard’s.

“That’s the way he’s tried to set this up, by doing nothing, which is why we have the lawsuit,” he said. “He’s only got one plan, the one he wants. But there’s no backup plan to make sure that he can get four votes. So, the burden is on him to make sure we’ve got garbage pickup.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba fired back against claims like Foote’s on Thursday, saying in a statement he’s tried to work with the council since October, but members have been unwilling to work with him.

He made public a November 2022 letter to the council president backing up his claim, saying that he allowed council members to participate in the vendor selection process and took the council’s advice on choosing a vendor to provide twice-a-week collection services.

At a meeting on January 11, the council passed a resolution in support of the mayor bringing on a contractor to provide twice-weekly services. The motion was made by Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks and did not require Lumumba to choose between options with trash carts or without.

However, the council later rejected bringing on Richard’s, the contractor that would require customers to have a special trash can.

“Our objective is clear. We want our residents to know that we have taken enormous efforts to secure a garbage collection contract,” Lumumba said in his statement. “We have gone through three separate RFP processes in the last several years. A slim majority of the city council has refused to accept the contract of the top-rated vendors in the last two RFP processes.”

An RFP is a request for proposals. Cities issue these requests in seeking business proposals for professional services, such as solid waste collections.

On February 1, the council filed suit in chancery court seeking a declaratory judgement on whether the council could choose its own contractor to pick up waste after the mayor has refused to bring forward another proposal under the 2021 request for proposals.

The administration issued an RFP in October of that year to bring on a new contractor, after the council rejected the winning proposal under the previous RFP. The October RFP included four options for respondents to offer proposals on: once and twice-a-week services that would require customers to have a special garbage can, and once and twice-a-week collections that would not.

Lumumba says Richard’s Disposal had the winning proposal under the 2021 RFP for twice-a-week pickup with carts. However, Foote says the council voted down that proposal multiple times.

Now, he says the mayor needs to bring another proposal forward.

“He selected Richard’s and we voted that down and then we voted that down again, multiple times,” he said. “He’s operating outside the law in order to try to get his way.”

The council also voted down an emergency contract with Richard’s. Even so, Richard’s was given a notice to proceed and began picking up trash on April 1, 2022.

“We didn’t approve the contract, so he just abandoned the RFP and took it upon himself to tell them to move forward and start picking up garbage without a contract,” Foote said.

Lumumba has said several times that under terms of the October RFP, he can’t bring the council another contract to consider unless Richard’s walks away.

However, a review of the RFP shows that the city “reserves the right, after opening the proposals, or at any other point during the selection process, to reject any or all proposals, modify or postpone the proposed project, evaluate any alternatives offered, or accept the proposal that, in the city’s sole judgment, is in its best interest.”

Responses to 2021 request for proposalsCost - twice a week, no cartCost - twice a week, with cart
Richard’s Disposal$652,500$756,000
Waste Management$858,060$1,116,720.00
FCC Environmental Services$945,856.25$1,123,342.09

Three companies responded to RFP: Waste Management, FCC Professional Services and Richard’s.

This week, the mayor released several pieces of correspondence with FCC and Waste Management showing they can no longer honor their 2021 prices.

“FCC Environmental Services, LLC cannot honor the pricing given in our response from October 2021,” wrote Dan Brazil, FCC chief operating officer. “Pricing would increase if responding to a new RFP within the next six months. As an industry, the major cost factors such as trucks, labor, fuel and interest expenses continue to rise and have risen substantially since October 2021.”

Waste Management provided a different response altogether.

“It is our view that the 2021 RFP for the city of Jackson... is no longer in effect as a result of your decision to reject WM’s proposal and engage Richard’s Disposal,” wrote Brandon Shaw, Waste Management president. “We will be happy to participate in any new RFP process as required by Mississippi law for solid waste collections.”

In a separate letter to the council on October 18, Waste Management told Foote that it could not enter into an agreement with the city until the council and the mayor resolved their ongoing legal disputes.

“We are aware of AG opinions that support the council’s position that it has the authority to enter into a solid waste collection agreement with a vendor without the mayor’s recommendation, but we think the history of the litigation and subsequent court rulings make it improvident for Waste Management to enter into an agreement with the city based on the last RFP.”

Numerous cases have been filed in the city’s ongoing trash battle. In 2021, the council filed suit against the mayor in chancery court after it declared its own state of emergency over garbage collections. Last year, the council and mayor were back in court over whether the mayor’s contract with Richard’s was binding without the council’s support. Following a controversial decision in that case, both sides were in litigation again over whether the mayor could veto a negative vote of the city’s legislative body.

Jackson also was sued by Richard’s Disposal for millions of dollars in back pay for picking up garbage under its emergency contract. The council had refused to pay the company initially, saying it could not approve payments for an illegal agreement.

The city eventually settled with the New Orleans-based firm out of court, agreeing to backpay and agreeing to keep the company in place until the end of the month in which the Supreme Court ruled on the veto case. The High Court handed down a ruling in March.

Despite the council’s latest lawsuit seeking the court’s permission to choose its own vendor, Foote maintains it is the mayor’s responsibility to ensure residential trash is picked up.

Not having a contract could be costly. According to a 2022 state of emergency issued by the mayor, Jackson could be fined up to $25,000 a day by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for each day trash is not properly picked up and disposed of.

Whether a contract can be approved remains to be seen. Foote says the mayor has told him he is planning to bring the council a contract. But as of Thursday afternoon, no special meeting of the council had been called.

Getting a quorum next week could be difficult, with two members expected to be out of town for the National League of Cities.

Meanwhile, Foote wants the mayor to provide any contract to the council at least 24 hours before they are asked to vote on it.

He sent a letter to Lumumba saying as much. However, he says the mayor has not agreed to do so. “They didn’t say ‘yes, we will do that. No, we won’t,’” he said. “They just sent a letter... the city attorney sent a letter stating... what the ordinance is about calling city council meetings.”

Foote would not provide a copy of the letters when asked.

Lumumba was not available for comment.

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