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Mayor vs. City Council: Jackson Garbage Dispute In Court Thursday As Contract Ends

Older man with glasses in a black suit with a light green tie, standing in front of a window
Attorney Roy D. Campbell III, of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP, addressed the Jackson City Council on Monday, Sept. 27. On Wednesday, Sept 22, the council retained him to represent it in possible legal conflict relating to the garbage-disposal contract. That day, the council rescinded Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba's Friday, Sept. 17, emergency order for the city's garbage collection. Photo courtesy Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Due to disagreement between Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba and the Jackson City Council, the fate of garbage collection in Mississippi’s capital city is still uncertain just one day before the current contract expires. It is now up to Hinds County Chancery Court to declare the legality of the city council’s decision on Sept. 27 to approve Waste Management, Inc.’s 30-day proposal to continue providing garbage-disposal services to the city. 

Waste Management holds the current contract with the City as it has for 35 years. The contract expires tomorrow, Sept. 30.

The usual path is for the mayor to present contracts to the council, but the council in a special meeting declared a local emergency on Sept 27 because, members said, the mayor did not make any progress in getting a new signed contract after the council rescinded his emergency order at a special council meeting on Sept. 22.

Lumumba, at the Sept. 27 meeting, repeated his previous accusation that the city council’s action was because it favored Waste Management. Lumumba frowned at the fact that the company did not present the 30-day proposal during his office’s negotiations with them. 

But that was before the mayor declared the state of emergency as a way to circumvent the City’s standard request-for-proposal process. Waste Management has maintained that the RFP process did not legally allow it to waive six years of its contract that the City requested prior to the emergency declaration, rejecting the mayor’s contention that it was not negotiating in good faith. 

‘A Sure Enough Emergency’

At 11:36 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22, Waste Management emailed the mayor and copied the council members, presenting its one-month proposal to continue the current contract in October at the current cost of $10.56 per household per month and a $1-million performance bond. 

The council considered another temporary contract at its special meeting on Monday as well. It was from National Waste United LLC and would cover six months and include a cost increase to $15 per residential unit per month with a $750,000 mobilization fee. It would include a performance bond of $625,958. 

The secretary of state’s website lists Dr. Dwayne K. Pickett Sr., the senior pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, as the company’s registered agent, showing that the company launched on Sept. 20, 2021. However, the city council submitted court documents at Hinds County Chancery Court on Monday showing that the company has five members, Socrates Garrett Enterprises Inc. and Enviromax Recycling, LLC, from Jackson, Miss.; SRS Inc. and Cooper & Associates, LLC from Tennessee; and Kingdom Transportation & Trucking, LLC, from Crystal Springs, Miss.

An older man with greyed hair looking toward the camera. He has on a black jacket with a white striped button down shirt and a lightly patterned tie. He is sitting in a black leather chair.
Socrates Garrett runs Socrates Garrett Enterprises LLC, which is one of the five businesses that formed National Waste United LLC. Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba signed an emergency agreement with the company on Sept. 17 to take over the city’s garbage disposal. The council nullified the agreement on Monday, Sept. 20, when it rescinded the mayor’s local emergency declaration. Photo courtesy Socrates Garrett

“The Waste Management contract for October would cost $568,856.64 for those first 30 days, the National Waste contract will cost—including the $750,000—will cost $1,558,035 for those first 30 days,” Attorney Roy D. Campbell III, of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP, said Monday. The city council hired Campbell to represent it in the garbage-collection dispute with the mayor.

Covering 53,869 residents, the City would have to pay National Waste $808,035 for each of the remaining five months, Campbell added. He explained on Monday that the council believes that sufficient time existed for the mayor to investigate a competitive proposal for temporary services by Sept. 22, when the council voted to cancel the local emergency. 

“(The Monday emergency order) quotes the mayor’s statement at that time, which was, ‘I want to make it clear to the residents of Jackson that it is on the council to determine how trash is picked up,'” the attorney added. “What city council’s (Sept. 22) vote amounted to was it said, ‘look there could well be an emergency to take place, but it’s not in effect now because there is sufficient time to go to garbage-collection providers and see if one of them won’t agree to provide garbage collection on a temporary basis.’”

“So the point is that nothing was done from last Wednesday on, so today council is confronted with a sure enough emergency. There are two proposals for council to consider, and somebody needs to act.” 

Lumumba: ‘An Effort to Steer a Contract’

The mayor, however, said the council misconstrued his statement saying that the city council has to find a way to pick up Jackson’s garbage.

“You are well aware that the mayor cannot establish the executive privilege for the council, so that is a misrepresentation to the people,” Lumumba said on Monday at the special City Council meeting. 

Close up of the side of a green garbage bin with a Waste Management label
Waste Management emailed Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba Wednesday, Sept. 22, detailing a 30-day proposal to continue providing the same level of garbage disposal in October, as outlined in its current contract in October. The mayor said he had not read the email as of Monday, Sept. 27. Photo by Kayode Crown

“You have to answer to your constituents, that’s what that statement said,” the mayor added. “That does not transfer the power from the executive branch to the legislative branch.”

Lumumba reiterated that the council’s action “is an effort to steer a contract to Waste Management,” considering that the council canceled his emergency declaration Wednesday only to establish its own by the next Monday. He accused the council of colluding with Waste Management and the company of attempting to force the mayoral administration’s hand for an extended contract. 

“And because the administration acted swiftly and decided to find an alternative so that we wouldn’t leave our residents without garbage pickup, then literally in the 11th hour of the day that the council voted to nullify an emergency, Waste management suggested, well, we can do it for a month at the same rate,” Lumumba added. 

The council met at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22. Waste Management sent the email at 11:36 a.m. that day. 

Not Enough Time for Attorney General Opinion

At the council meeting on Monday, attorney Roy Campbell said that though the regular route is to ask for the Mississippi attorney general’s opinion, the City does not have the luxury of time. 

“Our recommendation is that council obtain a declaratory judgment from a court between now and close of business Thursday (Sept. 30) when the contract expires, to make clear to everybody that council’s action today is lawful,” he said.  

“In our view, time is so short,” he added. “We think we can get a declaratory judgment ruling more quickly than we could an opinion from the attorney general’s office.”

“We think council ought to only finally act on one of these proposals that is put into effect after a court has ruled.” 

Council President and Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay, Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote, Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley and Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks voted in lockstep on Monday for the emergency order, Waste Management’s one-month proposal approval and for putting the case before the chancery court. Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee and Ward 4 Councilman Brian Grizzell voted in all three occasions against the move. Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes was absent. 

“Upon entry of a judgement by a court of competent jurisdiction, declaring that this action by the city council is lawful and authorized, the president of the city council is designated and authorized on behalf of the city council to execute the proposal,” the council’s order approving Waste Management’s proposal stated. A similar order on National Waste System’s six-month proposal died for lack of a motion. 

Mayor: ‘I Know This Is Illegal’

Lumumba had earlier accused Waste Management of lack of effectiveness and overworking employees, lack of job security and being unresponsive to his concerns, all of which it denies.

“I have great concerns; in fact, I know that this is illegal, probably putting bonds in jeopardy and everything else. I think that we can anticipate an extensive legal battle,” Lumumba warned at the Monday council meeting. He said he has not reviewed Waste Management’s recent proposal emailed to him on Wednesday. 

Jackson City Council sitting in the council room. It is beige with dark brown bench seats.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, left, said on Monday, Sept. 27, that the city council’s action approving Waste Management’s 30-day garbage disposal contract was illegal. Courtesy City of Jackson

“I only received the email, and I hadn’t even seen the email and so there’s no opportunity to really digest or even determine the value of this emergency contract for the administration,” he said. “I want to be clear that the only way we would move forward is if the court established that we had to in the midst of this emergency.”

Waste Management, in that email attached to the city council’s emergency complaint, said that it is “willing to provide services to the City during the month of October at the same rates as those specified in our existing contract which expires on September 30.”

“This offer will give the City and Waste Management an opportunity to resume contract negotiations and hopefully enter into a new agreement,” it added. “If the city is engaged in good faith negotiations, we are willing to consider providing services through the end of October.”

Tale of Two New ‘National Waste’ Companies

On Monday, Sept 20, the mayor said at a press briefing that he had signed a contract with a vendor he did not name. Councilman Foote told the Mississippi Press on Wednesday, Sept. 22, that the company is “National Waste” and the council was wary of giving a contract to a two-week-old company. The Mississippi’s Secretary of State website indicates that National Waste Systems LLC has been in operation since Sept. 12, 2021.

However, the city council’s court filing showed a proposal from National Waste United LLC, an even younger company that started operation on Sept. 20. Both National Waste United and National Waste Systems are listed on the secretary of state’s website.

There are commonalities between the two coalitions. Kingdom Coalition and Tracking LLC, in Crystal Springs, Miss.; SRS, Inc., in Gallatin, Tenn.; and Jackson-based Socrates Garrett Enterprises, Inc., are part of both companies. The registered agent for National Waste United, Dwayne Pickett Sr., has the same address as Kingdom Coalition and Trucking. 

Charles Pickett signed the contract dated Sept. 17, with the principal place of business at 5520 Highland Drive, Jackson, Miss. It is the exact address listed on the secretary of state’s website for National Waste Systems. 

On Thursday, Sept. 29, the Mississippi Free Press reached Charles Pickett by phone seeking comments about the City’s emergency garbage-disposal contract. He directed this reporter to call Socrates Garrett instead. Garrett did not immediately return phone calls on Wednesday, Sept. 29, for his comments on his involvement with the City’s emergency garbage-disposal contract. 

Emergency Court Case as Contract Expires

In the Monday court filings, the city council said that when the mayor declared emergency on Friday, Sept. 17, he “unilaterally entered into negotiations with individuals who would go on to form a new company, National Waste United, LLC, which proposed to provide solid waste collection and hauling services on a temporary, emergency basis.”

Tiffany Grove wearing a black suite with shoulder length blonde hair standing beside a golden decoration that says "The Great Seal of the State of Mississippi"
The Jackson City Council and Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba are to appear before Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Tiffany Grove (pictured) on Thursday, Sept. 30. The council is seeking a declaratory judgment that the contract it approved for Waste Management is legally sufficient. The mayor promised a protracted legal battle. Photo courtesy Tiffany Grove

City council members said that the mayor did not present the proposed National Waste contract to the council on Sept. 22, though he signed it on Sept 17, when it held a special meeting to consider his emergency declaration. Council members also mentioned Waste Management’s email proposal.

“Mayor Lumumba’s conduct at and since the September 22, 2021 City Council meeting demonstrates an abdication of his responsibility to provide for the collection and disposal of garbage and rubbish,” it added in its court filing.

The legal filing cited Miss. Code 33-15-17(d) as the basis of the city council’s authority to declare the state of emergency. “A local emergency as defined in Section 33-15-5 may be proclaimed by the mayor or governing body of a municipality, or the president of the board of supervisors of a county or the governing body of a county,” it says.

Attorney Stevie Rushing of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP, on Tuesday, Sept. 28, filed a notice for a hearing of the city council’s “emergency complaint” for a declaratory judgment before Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Tiffany Grove on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, at 9 a.m. 

“You are hereby invited to appear and show cause, if any, why the relief requested in the Emergency Complaint should not be granted,” Rushing wrote to the mayor on the court filing. 

Problem with City’s RFP Process and Timing? 

Councilman Hartley said that his constituents want two days of garbage pickup a week at the lowest cost possible. The FCC Environmental Services Inc. contract that the council twice rejected was for once-a-week pick-ups.

 “In my opinion, we need to take a breath, continue to deliver folks’ garbage pick-up and work through the RFP process,” he said on Monday. “That’s what we need to do. The people are expecting a continuation of their garbage service, and they’re expecting good government.” 

“Garbage isn’t sexy. This is day-to-day stuff—hard work. You need to have the things in place to make sure it gets done,” he added.

A man standing in front of a curved staircase. He is wearing a blue suit, maroon tie, and black glasses
At a special Jackson City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley said that the City of Jackson needs to fine-tune its contract-approval process to avoid a recurrence of the garbage contract stalemate. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

Hartley said there is a need to refine the city’s RFP process going forward.

“Let’s work through the RFP, because if we don’t, if we get the hiccups here, what’s going to be the next emergency—a water emergency, a pothole or a crime emergency? When we start swinging outside of these lines and start getting creative with our processes, then we run afoul of going into trouble,” he said. He did not elaborate further. 

“When the council voted down a contract repeatedly, what is the next step, and let’s fix that step, and let’s move forward,” added Hartley, who became a member of the Mississippi Free Press Advisory Board prior to running for office, but has no influence on City of Jackson coverage.

Councilman Banks pointed to the timing of the initial garbage contract’s presentation to the council in August. “I think that had we started looking at having conversations and dealing with this before, you know, two months ago, I think it could have worked out a whole lot better,” he said. 

On Monday, Jackson City Council President Lindsay said the local emergency and the approval of Waste Management’s 30-day proposal were necessary until a “real solution” is determined. She said those actions are subject to getting a ruling from the court before Oct. 1, stating that the action was lawful.

“If that doesn’t happen before midnight on September the 30th, then the people of Jackson, including myself, will go without garbage collection. It’s as simple as that,” attorney Campbell said. 

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