Waste Management is suing Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, claiming that he is ignoring the company and long-term vendor in negotiations for a garbage-disposal contract.
“The Mayor’s initial proposal of vendor to the (Jackson) City Council has been rejected on two occasions by the City Council,” Waste Management attorney J Chase Bryan of Young Wells Williams P.A wrote. “The Mayor has refused to engage in negotiations with the second ranked proposer to the (request for proposal).”
The company said that the mayor’s refusal to make a second recommendation to the council puts it out of compliance with the RFP’s terms.
“After the City Council rejected the proposal to award the contract to Richard’s Disposal, the mayor refused to initiate discussions with WM even though RFP states that if negotiations with the highest-ranking service provider fail, negotiations may be initiated with the next highest-ranking service provider and so on until (an) agreement is reached,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The mayor cannot create his own ’emergency’ to end run Mississippi law or the approval of the Jackson City Council,” the suit continues. “WM has offered to extend the current contract until April 30, 2022, so there is no emergency.”
Waste Management asked the court for an order directing Lumumba to negotiate with the remaining RFP participants. The mayor, however, said at a press conference yesterday that he is hopeful for an outcome in favor of his administration’s decision.
“As you are aware, there has been a lawsuit filed; I won’t go into great detail on that, just to say that we have taken on a multinational corporation before. We are 1-0, and I like our chances,” Lumumba said. In 2017, the City of Jackson won a $63 million settlement from Siemens, with regards to the botched replacement of the water meters.
Waste Management’s headquarters is in Houston, Texas and has held the garbage disposal contract in the City of Jackson for 35 years.
Council Replaces Richard’s Disposal
On Thursday, the Jackson City Council approved Mayor Chokwe. A. Lumumba’s Feb. 17 garbage-disposal emergency declaration but replaced Richard’s Disposal with Waste Management in the order.
The six-month emergency garbage-disposal contract with Waste Management lapses on March 31. Lumumba declared a state of emergency on Feb. 17, which stated that he intends to enter into a one-year contract with Louisiana-based Richard’s Disposal.
The city council had twice voted down Richard’s Disposal, and it hired Bradley Law Firm on Feb. 4 to determine whether it needed to hire its own attorney. It also wanted to know whether voting twice against Richard’s Disposal precludes the body from considering the proposal for one year, according to an interpretation of the statutes.
In a response memo provided to the Mississippi Free Press, the law firm’s Roy D. Campbell said that the council cannot hire its own attorney and that the statutes do not preclude the reconsideration of Richard’s Disposal for that length of time. Last year, Campbell advised the city council when it took the mayor to court and asked it to rule that the council’s 30-day emergency contract with Waste Management was in order. The parties settled out of court, and Waste Management received the six-month emergency garbage disposal contract.
Mayor Lumumba’s Feb. 17 declaration of emergency required that the city council concur with it to continue. The council did so at a special meeting on Feb. 24, voting on the item once and then again after three different amendments.
The council first rejected the emergency declaration in a 4-3 vote when the item came up. Because the item indicated that the City has already entered into an emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal for one year, City Attorney Catoria Martin afterward said that the contract stands.
“The emergency—once it’s been declared and an agreement has been entered into—there is no need to continue the emergency,” Martin said. “So since the mayor has already entered into an emergency agreement (with Richard’s Disposal), there is no need to continue the emergency. So the agreement’s already been entered into.”
As a procedural matter, Council President Virgi Lindsay introduced an amendment to change the order from indicating that the council voted to approve the emergency declaration to voting to disapprove it.
Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks then moved to strike portions of the item. Instead of stating that the City has contracted with Richard’s Disposal for one year, the amendment changes the language to say that the City will contract with “the current provider,” Waste Management, for one year.
Martin objected to this move, saying that the council does not have the right to approve a contract. “And I will advise the council against this because it’s clear that the council does not have authority to negotiate agreements,” she said.
Banks fired back “We are the lawmakers for the city; the only thing that the city attorney can do is advise us,” he retorted. He also proposed rescinding Lindsay’s amendment so that the council would vote for the emergency declaration rather than against it.
The three amendments on the floor passed with a 4-3 vote. City Attorney Martin said the council’s action only recommended Waste Management to the mayor.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Mayor Lumumba kicked back against the council’s move.
“Regretfully, today was another example of continuous attempts of a slim majority of City Council members to circumvent the procurement process and allow our current garbage collection vendor, Waste Management, to maintain a contract that they lost in a legitimate bid process,” the mayor wrote.
Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote, Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley and Banks voted to replace Richard’s Disposal with Waste Management. Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee, Ward 4 Councilman Brian Grizzell and Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay voted against the amendments.
“Richard’s Disposal won the garbage collection bid,” the mayor said in the statement. “In 99% of cases, the council abides by this well-established and routine practice, where the top bid is selected. But when it comes to Waste Management, who lost out in two separate bidding processes, a majority of the council seems uninterested in the very real ramifications of their decision.”
“This almost comical attempt to continue Waste Management’s service clearly crossed the line of separation of powers,” he continued. “It is unclear why these council members are so bound and determined to contract with Waste Management.”
“The council should know better,” Lumumba concluded. “They do know better, and the facts and the law are not on their side.”
Banks said at the council meeting that he was concerned about setting a wrong precedent by approving a contract before seeing the content. “What concerns is there being a precedent set where the council or legislative authorities’ vote can be bypassed at any time through just declaring an emergency,” he said.
The mayor’s Feb. 17 emergency declaration only anticipated executing an emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal, but the item before the council on Thursday included the fact that “the City has contracted on an emergency basis with Richard’s Disposal, Inc.”
Banks responded: “Then now, in my judgment, after looking at that, the administration would rather go ahead and do a contract without even working with the council.”
“Are we starting a new precedent to begin to enter into a contract without it even being ratified by the council?” he added.
The Ward 6 councilman also said he does not believe that the council should enter into an emergency contract because he disagrees that there is an emergency.
“We have a current provider that’s picking up trash right now, and so I would think the emergency means that you got trash that’s piled up and just stacked up,” Banks said. “But if it’s an emergency, then here is the decision that I think that the council has to look at responsibly—who is best situated?”
“Is it this new vendor that none of us have a relationship (with) or know anything about what he is going to do, how much is it going to cost, what’s in it?” Banks continued. “We don’t have none of those details. And so you’re asking us to basically sign a blank check.”
Martin said that the mayor has the sole discretion to determine which vendor to negotiate with for an emergency agreement and has decided to deal with Richard’s Disposal.
“[T]oday, they attempted to circumvent the emergency procurement process when they realized that Richard’s would be the emergency contractor,” Mayor Lumumba said of the city council in his Feb. 24 statement. “Then they changed their mind and voted to continue the emergency and to amend the order to replace Richard’s Disposal with Waste Management.”