On March 9, 2022, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba filed an emergency complaint related to his emergency declaration over garbage collection in the capital city. His complaint was seeking a declaratory judgment against the seven-member city council. He asked the Hinds County Chancery Court to determine the limits of the two parties’ powers.
Lumumba requested that the court declare that the Jackson City Council lacks authority to negotiate and sign a residential solid trash collection contract, citing statutes.
Felecia Perkins and Jessica Ayers, the mayor’s attorneys, asked the judge to determine “(t)hat the City Council has no authority to amend the Mayor’s order declaring a local emergency, and instead, after the Mayor declares a local emergency the City Council is required to approve or disapprove the proclamation.”
They also want the court to affirm “(t)hat the Mayor has the authority to find independent contractors/vendors who can provide necessary emergency services and present contract(s) to the City Council for approval.”
On March 10, 2022, all four Hinds County chancery judges—Denise Owens, Crystal Wise Martin, J. Dewayne Thomas and Tiffany Grove—signed a letter recusing themselves from hearing the case. On March 11, 2022, the Mississippi Supreme Court appointed former Supreme Court Justice Jess H. Dickinson to preside as a special chancery judge.
On March 14, the city council filed a response to Lumumba’s complaint.
How We Got Here
The lawsuit furthers the ongoing saga that began last year when, at the end of a request-for-proposal process, the city council in August 2021 twice voted down FCC Environmental Service as Jackson’s garbage-disposal vendor, complaining of the price hike it required and a short time to examine the proposal.
After Mayor Lumumba stated that the council would need to determine how the City of Jackson would dispose of solid wastes at the end of Waste Management’s contract on Sept. 30, 2021, the council approved an emergency 30-day contract with the company on Sept. 27, 2021.
However, on Sept 29, 2021, one day before the expiration of Waste Management’s contract, attorney Roy D. Campbell approached the Hinds County Chancery Court on behalf of the council to determine the legality of its action.
The mayor and the council settled the case out of court the next day, Sept. 30, 2021, with Lumumba agreeing to a six-month emergency contract with Waste Management. That contract ends on March 31, 2022, less than three weeks from now.
After launching another request for proposals in 2021—for which Waste Management, Richard’s Disposal and FCC Environmental Services submitted proposals detailing various options—the mayor presented Richard’s Disposal’s contract for twice-weekly pick-up to the council as the winning bid because it offers the lowest cost. Monthly garbage disposal fees will include the cost of 90-gallon carts for each residence.
However, the council rejected Richard’s Disposal contract on Jan. 18 and again on Feb. 1 of this year, citing the company’s low technical evaluation scores and possible logistics problems relating to the carts.
As the expiration of the Waste Management emergency-disposal contract looms on March 31, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba declared another state of local emergency on Feb. 17.
“(I)n order to combat the dangers to the public health that will arise if residential garbage remains uncollected for six months or longer, while the City attempts to procure a contract for the collection of residential solid waste in accordance with Section 31-7-13 (r), the Mayor intends to contract on an emergency basis with Richard’s Disposal, Inc. for the collection of residential solid waste beginning on April 1, 2022, continuing for period of one year or the procurement of a permanent contract complying with the requirements of Section 31-7-13 (r),” Lumumba wrote.
That same day, and before presenting the emergency declaration to the council for approval, Lumumba signed a one-year emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal, starting April 1, 2022.
On Feb. 18, Waste Management wrote to Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba and the city council, complaining that the mayor’s declaration of a local garbage-disposal emergency was a way to circumvent the RFP process and threatened legal action. Waste Management proposed an extension of its emergency contract for one more month until the end of April 2022.
“Waste Management, therefore, is willing to provide services to the City during the month of April at the same rates as those specified in our existing contract, which expires on March 31, 2022. This offer will give the City and Waste Management an opportunity to resume contract negotiations and hopefully enter into a new agreement,” Young Wells Williams P.A.’s J Chase Bryan, representing the garbage-disposal company, wrote in the letter.
The next day, Waste Management followed through with its threat and sued Lumumba. “The Mayor’s initial proposal of vendor to the (Jackson) City Council has been rejected on two occasions by the City Council,” Attorney Bryan wrote. “The Mayor has refused to engage in negotiations with the second-ranked proposer to the (request for proposal).”
“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.”
On March 8, the city council rescinded the mayor’s Feb. 17 proclamation of local emergency, which it earlier agreed to on Feb. 24, now contending that there was no emergency. “(A) local emergency is the duly proclaimed existence of conditions of disaster or extreme peril to the safety of person and property within the territorial limits of a municipality caused by such conditions as water pollution or other natural or man-made conditions,” the order said quoting Mississippi Code Annot. 33-15-5g.
“(T)he Jackson city council recognizes that sufficient time exists to continue negotiations for solid waste collection and hauling services,” they wrote in the order.
After the City responded to Waste Management’s Feb. 25 suit in a March 10 filing, stating that Waste Management prematurely brought the suit, the company filed a voluntary notice of dismissal terminating the case on March 14.
A Bribery Allegation
In a media briefing on Feb. 28, 2022, Mayor Lumumba repeated his accusation of contract-steering against the council and levied bribery accusations against unnamed council members, while refusing to produce any evidence. “I believe certain members of our council have accepted bribes and are steering a contract. That is what I believe. And I want to put that clearly,” he said.
“When’s the last time that you saw (Ward 3 Councilman) Kenny Stokes and (Ward 1 Councilman) Ashby Foote so closely aligned to one another. You have to ask yourself, ‘What is going on here?’ So that is putting it plainly and simply, and we look forward to our day in court,” he added while making comments relating to Waste Management’s Feb. 25 lawsuit.
Lumumba said the council is pushing back against a cheaper contract.
“Who’s going to pay the difference?—the residents of Jackson,” he said at the Feb. 28, 2022, media briefing. “When I say that you have a contract that is historic and that a minority firm has won a large contract that not only changes opportunities for residents, you have council members who have professed to be supportive of Black business, but they are adamantly opposed to this contract.”
Stokes Sent Letter to U.S. Attorney
At a city council meeting on March 1, Stokes requested that the city clerk read a letter he sent U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca asking him to investigate Lumumba’s allegation of bribery.
“Please accept this letter as an official request by the office of Jackson City Councilman Kenneth I. Stokes for the office of the United States attorney to arrange to conduct a complete and thorough investigation of the intentionally false and malicious allegations made by Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba against this office and another council member on Monday, February 28th, 2022,” Stokes wrote.
“The allegations reported are that certain members of our council have accepted bribes and are steering a contract,” he continued. “The cooperation of this office is assured. Thanking you in advance.”
Jackson City Council President Virgi Lindsay did not permit any discussion of the letter and urged caution: “I want to say the administration—especially after that press conference yesterday (Feb. 28, 2022)—I want to say that we must put the people of this city first, and we must move forward as a body.”
On March 9, the council approved a resolution “expressing extreme disapproval of Mayor Chokwe. A. Lumumba’s comments towards certain city council members.”
Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote said that the mayor’s accusation was unfounded. “I thought that was outrageous for him to throw accusations like that that are unfounded,” Foote told The Northside Sun in a March 9 report. “The only evidence was that I was voting like (City Council Member Kenneth) Stokes.
“I think the mayor is frustrated because he hasn’t gotten the vendor he preferred for the garbage contract.”