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Jackson Mayor Can’t Override Council On Garbage Contracts, Mississippi Supreme Court Rules

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba talking energetically with one arm slightly raised
Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba cannot veto a negative vote of the Jackson City Council, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled on March 9, 2023. Photo by Kayode Crown

JACKSON, Miss.— Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba cannot veto the Jackson City Council when it votes down a motion, the Mississippi Supreme Court declared in a ruling today. This is the latest development in a long-term tussle between the Jackson mayor’s office and the council over establishing a garbage-disposal contract for the capital city.

The city council voted in March and April 2022 against the mayor’s move to offer a one-year emergency garbage-disposal contract to Black-owned Richard’s Disposal. The mayor vetoed the council’s decision, sparking legal battles in the Hinds County circuit and chancery courts, with the dispute ultimately landing in the Supreme Court last year.

Special Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Larry E. Roberts ruled in July that Lumumba’s vetoes were improper, which the Supreme Court justices affirmed today in a unanimous opinion.

“Because the Mayor in a mayor-council municipality may not, in his limited legislative power, veto an action or measure not undertaken by the City Council and because no statutory authority exists allowing him to do so, we affirm the judgment of the trial court,” today’s Supreme Court opinion says.

The Mississippi Free Press asked Lumumba’s office for comment after the ruling. “We have no comment at this time,” City of Jackson Communications Director Melissa Payne said in an email.

Jackson City Council President and Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote told the Mississippi Free Press today in an interview that he welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We felt all along that we are in the right in our situation and in this particular situation. I was gratified to see the court rule the way it did that, in fact, the mayor can’t veto a negative vote by the council,” he said.

Foote said that he is waiting to see what the mayor will do in response to the decision. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Magistrate Judge Michael T. Parker mediated a temporary settlement in October 2022 for the City to pay Richard’s Disposal for garbage collection until the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision. The decision averted what could have been a cessation of garbage pickup services altogether.

“But that does not settle who will pick the trash after that,” Foote said today. I am waiting to hear from the mayor. The emergency contract with Richards that he put in place back a year ago is due to run out on the 31st of March,” Foote said. “So I’m looking forward to see how the mayor is going to handle the situation now that this ruling’s come down.”

Waste Management, Inc. held the garbage disposal contract with the City of Jackson for years before its last contract ended in 2021. After that, the Jackson City Council repeatedly voted down garbage contracts the mayor presented to it, including one with FCC Environmental Services in 2021 and then Richard’s Disposal twice in 2022. The Mayor has accused the council of preferring Waste Management and of attempting to steer the City back towards a new contract with the long-time vendor.

You can read more of our reporting on the Jackson garbage issue dating back to September 2021 here.

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