JACKSON, Miss.—Jackson residents no longer have anyone to pick up trash from their homes as of Monday after the City Council voted down a six-year contract with Richard’s Disposal on Saturday.
Mayor Chowke A. Lumumba said another request-for-proposal process would take about 50 days to complete in a statement Saturday, which risks leaving capital city residents with no garbage pickup for weeks. In the meantime, the City faces a fine of $25,000 a day from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for not picking up garbage.
The latest garbage crisis is part of a long-running dispute between the mayor and the city council, which prompted a series of emergency garbage disposal contracts in the capital city, starting for six months with Waste Management in October 2021; Richard’s Disposal began providing garbage pickup in an emergency contract in April 2022, following the council’s previous repeated rejections of contracts Lumumba presented after two earlier rounds of RFP processes.
The mayor presented the council with FCC Environmental Services in 2021 and Richard’s Disposal in 2022 as bid winners, but the council refused both efforts. The mayor has repeatedly accused the council of contract steering in favor of Waste Management, which held the contract with the City for decades before the current impasse.
Richard’s Disposal, which is Louisiana-based and Black-owned, has picked up trash in the city on an emergency basis since April 1, 2022, over the city council’s objection. The mayor vetoed that objection, but the Mississippi Supreme Court declared the mayor could not veto a council’s negative vote in a March 9 ruling.
‘This Is What Contract Steering Looks Like’
On Saturday, Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley, Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks, and Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote voted against adopting a six-year contract with Richard’s Disposal, which the mayor said he favors because it comes with the lowest cost to the City.
Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who abstained from voting, wanted to swap the name of Richard’s Disposal for Waste Management as an amendment to the mayor’s proposal over the protests of City Attorney Catoria Martin, who said only the mayor has the legal authority to put forth a contract. The council voted the amendment down.
“This is what contract steering looks like, people,” Councilman Grizzell said loudly in the council chambers after the vote on Saturday.
“This is a very sad for the City of Jackson and its residents,” Lumumba said in a press release Saturday.
“A slim majority of the City Council has again voted down a garbage collection contract that would save the City millions of dollars, provide good paying jobs to Jackson residents and prevent us from enduring an unnecessary public health and environmental crisis,” he added. “It is abundantly clear that there is only one vendor the four council members will approve—and it is not based in the best interests of our residents. Our hearts go out to all the hardworking employees of Richard’s who have overcome great adversity to provide residents with garbage collection services.”
‘We Are Discussing Our Options’
Jackson City Council President Ashby Foote sent a statement to the Mississippi Free Press Monday evening calling the past year of Richard’s Disposal operating in the city illegal and said the body is now in court seeking a declaratory judgment to enter into negotiations with the two other vendors in the RFP.
“Jackson just passed the one-year anniversary of the Mayor’s illegal action when he gave Richard’s Disposal the notice to proceed in picking up garbage across the City of Jackson without a valid contract,” he said. “This was illegal because the Mayor abandoned the RFP Process that had begun in October 2021 after Richard’s Disposal had been voted down multiple times by the City Council in January, February and March of 2022.”
“If the Mayor had stayed within the RFP process he would have brought forward another vendor until he got one that could get four votes from the City Council,” he added. “Instead, the Mayor chose to go outside the law in pursuit of a contract for his favored vendor. For this reason, the City’s garbage pickup has been under the jurisdiction of the Federal Court system and Judge Christy Johnson and Magistrate Mike Parker for nine months.”
Foote called it “sad” that Lumumba had not worked harder to find a vendor that could get four votes from the council.
“In a cynical move, he decided to wait until the last 48 hours of the Federal Court jurisdiction in hopes the threat of ‘no garbage pickup’ (would) flip one of the Council votes in favor of Richard’s Disposal. It is shameful to create and then use citizen anxiety as a negotiating ploy,” he continued.
“The Council is pursuing a legal pathway through Special Chancellor David Clark, appointed by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court to resolve the current garbage issue. The Council is seeking a Declaratory Judgement to negotiate with Vendors 2 and 3 to provide garbage collection services under a legal and valid contract. Further details on these efforts will be forthcoming.”
The Mississippi Supreme Court’s administrative office shared a copy of the February order Monday evening showing that the high court appointed Clark to preside over a case the council brought against the mayor in February concerning the garbage disposal issue. The body filed an emergency hearing motion before the court Monday.
Councilman Banks suggested the council could offer a three-month “temporary contract” to Richard’s Disposal in a Facebook post Monday. The mayor responded in a statement shared with the Mississippi Free Press yesterday.
“We are discussing our options with Richard’s Disposal Inc., the Office of the State Auditor and the Department of Environmental Quality as we move forward this week,” Lumumba said. “We have not yet received confirmation from these parties regarding next steps, therefore, until we receive that confirmation, we cannot legally move forward with an emergency.”
‘Take Your Trash Over to Their House’
At a special council meeting on March 30, 2023, the mayor presented Richard’s Disposal for a six-year garbage disposal contract. The four council members who would later vote against Richard’s Disposal on April 1 or who abstained from voting did not attend the meeting; the council could not take a vote because there was no quorum as the law requires.
Richard’s Disposal had communicated to the mayor that it would honor its price in the last RFP process, while other participants in the 2022 RFP process—FCC Environmental Services and Waste Management—said they would not. FCC Environmental Services said its price would go up, while Waste Management did not regard the last RFP process as still valid.
“It is our view that the 2021 RFP for the City of Jackson Solid Waste Collection is no longer in effect as a result of your decision to reject WM’s proposal and engage Richard’s Disposal, Inc,” Waste Management of Mississippi, Inc., President Brandon Shaw said in a March 10, letter to the mayor. “We will be happy to participate in any new RFP process as required by Mississippi law for solid waste collection contracts.”
At the council meeting on Thursday, the mayor said residents may have to suffer through days of no garbage pickup.
Working Together Jackson, a coalition of city leaders, gathered at the City Hall that day and criticized the council members who did not attend the meeting.
“The city once again is going to have even more litter and trash all over the place when it makes no sense,” Working Together Jackson member Bishop Ronnie Crudup told the press. “Working Together Jackson wants to call upon all the citizens of Jackson, Mississippi: Let’s hold our city council people responsible, let’s do it now so that they can come together. This is a true crisis now for Jackson Mississippi and everybody in the city.”
“First, we want to see the garbage picked up, but secondly, we have a company that’s been picking the garbage up for the last year, they’ve done a good job of that,” he continued. “As we understand it, they will be much cheaper than anybody else who has said they are interested. We don’t need to be here. Call them (council members), talk to them. If need be, take your trash over to their house. We want change.”
‘It Makes No Sense’
In a sit-down with the Mississippi Free Press on March 23, 2023, Lumumba accused the Jackson City Council of “trying to harm” Richard’s Disposal, but that he has prioritized lowered cost.
“And the reality is that I don’t have a preference towards any firm. My preference is towards what is affordable to the residents, what is affordable to the city,” he said. “I’m not arguing over pennies, I’m arguing over a cost that I know will be tacked on to water bills that every expert in this fight to restore our water system has said we’re going to have to raise our rates.”
“So if I know that the residents are already expected to possibly feel a pinch in terms of their pockets when it reflects on their water bills, then why am I adding an unnecessary expense on top of that with trash? … It’s unnecessary. It makes no sense.”
The mayor told the Mississippi Free Press that the cost of doing business with Richard’s Disposal was “32% lower than the other price.”
“Then are you against a 32% savings?” he added.
He warned of consequences that could follow a delay in getting a garbage disposal contract.
“Now, you can try to wait on an RFP, but that means people’s trash stacks up for months and months, right? And if they argue for an emergency, we’re already in a deficit. And so in an emergency cost, you pay a much higher premium because there’s instability for the contractor, there’s instability for the workforce,” he said. “And lastly, I would say the problem with it is that it was avoidable. This is something that the council has initiated through their desire to push this contract to Waste Management.”
“And I can’t abide by who you like. I don’t have a particular affinity or disdain for any of the companies. What I have an affinity towards is what we can afford and what serves the needs of our residents.”