‘This is what contract steering looks like’: Council votes down Richard’s Disposal

Published: Apr. 1, 2023 at 10:37 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - If you’ve put your trash out to be picked up Saturday morning, chances are it might stay there for a while.

At a special called meeting Saturday, the council voted 3-3-1 to award a six-year contract to Richard’s Disposal, meaning the motion failed.

“This is what contract steering looks like,” Ward 4 Councilman Brian Grizzell said as the meeting was adjourned.

Protests from Richard’s workers erupted following the vote, with some chanting “vote them out, vote them out.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba spoke to reporters and Richard’s workers outside council chambers.

He told those present that he could not put another emergency contract in place, citing a recent Mississippi Supreme Court ruling.

“The council has to approve the contract. As mayor, I can only present the contract,” he said. “So, I don’t have the right to veto to put that emergency contract in place.”

[READ: Supreme Court upholds lower court ruling in trash-related veto case]

He also questioned whether Richard’s would agree to another one-year emergency deal.

“I don’t know, one, whether Richard’s would be willing to do an emergency... because they would be negotiating against themselves,” he said. “What the council is trying to do is delay, delay, delay so they can put a vendor of their choosing in place and give them an opportunity to build up their capacity. That’s what they’re trying to do.”

Meanwhile, three council members, along with the council’s independent legal representative, held a press conference at the Office of Martin & Martin saying that the city doesn’t have trash pickup because of the mayor. The press conference was held at Martin’s office out of security concerns.

“We’ve been dealing with this for over a year and a half. The mayor has a job to do. When he brings us a contract and [it] is voted down, then he has to follow the state RFP process, which he did not do,” Council President Ashby Foote said. “What he did was sit on his hands, he waited up until 11:59, the last minute of the last hour and said, ‘vote for this. And if you don’t do this, it’s your fault.’”

“No, he has to be the executive. He has to be the mayor. He has to lead, and he has to follow our processes, which he did not do.”

Voting in favor of the measure were council members Grizzell, Angelique Lee, and Virgi Lindsay. Opposed were Foote, Vernon Hartley, and Aaron Banks. Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes abstained.

Stokes made a motion to strike Richard’s Disposal from the agenda item and replace it with Waste Management, but the motion failed on a 2-4-1 vote, with Stokes and Hartley voting in favor and Banks abstaining.

At one point, the meeting had to be brought to order after several Richard’s employees applauded. Stokes asked whether the city was following its COVID-19 protocols and if the meeting room should be cleared.

About 75 people attended, many of whom were employees with Richard’s Disposal, urging the council to approve the agreement.

Richard’s one-year emergency contract ended on March 31. The council did not have a quorum at a special meeting on Thursday, and therefore could not vote to approve or deny a new contract.

Dozens of Richard’s workers spoke prior to the meeting, saying they were ready to get back to work if the contract had been approved.

Now, Richard’s Chief Marketing Officer Deidra Jones says she’s unsure how long the company can keep workers in place.

“We’re going to hold them as long as we can and hope we can come to a resolution with the council members, so we can get this garbage picked up,” Jones said. “I will pay them.”

As for garbage pickup?

“We are not picking up today. We will not pick up until we have a signed contract. We can’t. We performed for seven months without getting a single dime. We’re not going to do that now,” Jones said. “We’re going to hold out and pray that this works out in our benefit.”

[READ: Council announces settlement with Richard’s Disposal]

The company has 80 employees.

“Contrary to what everyone is saying, Kimberly and I are the only two people that are not from Jackson,” Jones said prior to the meeting,” Jones said during a demonstration prior to the meeting.

Kimberly is Kimberly Mueller, governmental and business affairs official with the New Orleans-based company.

“We want to be here; we want to pick up the garbage. Most of the people here are from Jackson. We are Jackson and we’re ready to roll,” Mueller said. “We’re ready to get on the streets... as soon as they [provide] a contract. We want the residents to have their garbage picked up.”

The council has voted down bringing on Richard’s multiple times, something Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley reminded City Attorney Catoria Martin during Saturday’s 30-minute meeting.

“So, you’re saying for the record that Richard’s Disposal has been brought to a vote before this council three times?”

“I will say in different variations because the contract has been modified each time,” Martin said.

Contracts cannot be brought back before the council for at least a year if they’re voted down twice at the same meeting.

Shirts worn by Richard's employees Saturday show they are "committed" to collecting trash in...
Shirts worn by Richard's employees Saturday show they are "committed" to collecting trash in Jackson.(WLBT)

Lumumba, though, said one vote didn’t count because the item was placed on the agenda by the council president, not the mayor.

“The only person who can present a contract is the mayor. So, if the council put it on the agenda and voted it down and that’s part of your equation... it wasn’t presented in a legally sufficient way,” he said. “It wasn’t presented by the mayor and therefore, it does not apply to the rule in which you’re trying to invoke.”

Council members also asked Richard’s and administration members about the company’s subcontractors and why the contract includes a clause that would allow the price to go up once the deal is in place.

The contract includes a provision that would allow the company to raise its price by five percent a year based on the Consumer Price Index. However, Martin said no increase could be put in place prior to July 1, 2024.

“Every contract we’ve done for solid waste services has included a CPI increase and that is very standard in the industry,” she said. “One of the modifications that we made to this agreement is that it does not start until July of 2024.”

As for subcontractors, a copy of the company’s 2021 proposal showed three: Cascade Engineering, out of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Expert Professional Solutions (XPS), of out Jackson; and H&P Construction & Consulting, also out of Jackson.

Cascade was to provide the 96-gallon trash carts as part of the agreement, while H&P was to provide consulting services.

Akil Webster, the owner of XPS, was previously sued by the city after leaders say they paid his company $101,000 for services that were never authorized.

XPS is still part of the contract and is receiving 6.78 percent of the total cost, Jones told the council.

“We have to have computers. We have to have software. We have to meet the computer requirements. All our trucks have to be stamped with the third-eye cameras. We have to download this software in case they have an accident or we have to say that we were at a resident’s address, we can prove that we were there,” Jones said. “So, we need it to make sure that all our software and all our trucks are working.”

A Jackson fire marshal clears out Jackson City Council chambers following a contentious meeting...
A Jackson fire marshal clears out Jackson City Council chambers following a contentious meeting on Saturday.(WLBT)

The mayor has long since backed Richard’s, in part, because he says it’s the cheapest option for twice-a-week trash collections in the city.

Grizzell pointed to the personal element, saying that voting down the contract could mean that many Jacksonians no longer have a job. He pointed to one person in the audience and told him to step forward. That employee was one of Grizzell’s former students.

“I don’t know these other people, but I know this young man right here. I know where he comes from. He lives in Stokes’ ward, and it hurts me to tell you that ‘today, you’re going to lose your job,’” he said. “And it’s not because of me. And what your options are, young, man, beyond this point, I don’t know. But I’m going to pray for you, because I know what it took to get you out of high school and what it took to get you to this point.”

“And I’m saying this to all of you,” he said. “I just want you to know that most of us, well several of us, we tried.”

Mayor Lumumba has since released the following statement:

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