Conflict continued this week as the capital city’s council and mayor debated which waste disposal contract to sign.
Here’s a timeline of events that led up to the debacle:
Tensions began in August 2021 when the City Council began discussing the need to re-sign a waste disposal contract for the city of Jackson.
Before August, Jackson’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, proposed using a waste disposal company called FCC Environmental Services for a six-year duration. The contract would cost around $10.4 million, with an estimated bid of each household costing $19.67 per month. By August 9, the City Council had voted against the provider twice with almost no debate.
The current trash collector company for the city of Jackson was Waste Management, which had a contract with the city that would expire on September 30. Waste Management has overseen Jackson’s waste disposal for 35 years, as the council wished to continue working with them, but the Jackson mayor did not.
After the council and mayor could not decide who Jackson’s waste disposal contract would be with, Mayor Lumumba issued an emergency contract for six additional months with Waste Management before the September contract ended.
Lumumba voiced that he was not happy with the contract, as numerous temp workers for the company were kept on staff for years because of staffing shortages. He also claimed that there had been threats of strikes from the staff because of the mistreatment from Waste Management.
Waste Management attorney J. Chase Bryan refuted Lumumba’s claims saying, “Waste Management strongly disagrees with the City’s characterization of how we treat our team members. Waste Management has a People First culture.”
The company then released a statement with testimonials from five employees from varying years of service with the company.
As the emergency contract went into effect on October 1, the mayor and City Council continued their search by issuing a request for proposals (RFP) from qualifying companies in October. The RFPs were due in late November 2021, with the expected decision scheduled to be taken to the City Council on January 4.
As the RFPs were released, three companies were announced in December as potential waste disposals for Jackson: FCC Environmental Service, Waste Management, and Richard’s Disposal.
Waste Management had the second-highest scorer of the October RFP for a twice-a-week collection provider with a 96-gallon cart requirement for the customer and it was also the top scorer for a twice-a-week collection provider without the requirement of a cart.
Waste Management’s estimated bid was the second-to-last lowest bid of $17.25 per month and Richard’s Disposal ranked the lowest with $16 a month. Richard’s Disposal ranked first of the October request for proposals (RFP) for a twice-a-week collection provider with a 96-gallon cart requirement for the customer.
The council pushed for the continuation of using Waste Management as the city’s provider when the list of qualifying RFPs was presented, but Lumumba then proposed the use of Richard’s Disposal as the company ranked first in the agreed-upon service and was the cheapest RFP.
Voting between the two companies occurred in the council in January, with voting against the mayor’s proposed contract with Richard’s Disposal, not once, but twice. Richard’s Disposal was later planned to be on the agenda for additional discussion at a council meeting, but it was voted to be removed from the agenda by the council.
In early February, Lumumba issued an emergency declaration regarding the trash disposal contracts, then awarded the contract to Richard’s Disposal. The city’s contract with the company would last for one year and would begin on April 1, 2022.
The council then passed for the continuation of Lumumba’s state of emergency but removed Richard’s Disposal from the declaration and replaced it with Waste Management.
As a result of the mayor’s pushing to use Richard’s Disposal despite the council’s decision, Waste Management sent a letter explaining their disapproval of the mayor’s emergency contract in late February, claiming it was not within the mayor’s rights to consistently defy the decision of the council.
“The mayor’s actions are arbitrary and capricious and he cannot in bad faith create a ‘fake’ emergency. Mississippi law defines an emergency as an ‘unforeseen occurrence or combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action or remedy; a pressing necessity,’” attorneys for Waste Management wrote. “There is not an emergency and the mayor’s actions do not comply with (state statute).”
A lawsuit was filed by Waste Management against the mayor on February 25, with the mayor responding that he believed the city had good chances against the suit.
“We have taken on a multinational company before. We are 1-0, and I like our chances,” Lumumba explained. Further action against the lawsuit has yet to occur.
A City Council meeting was also held on February 25, where Lumumba brought up allegations of bribery and steering the garbage contracts, questioning why the council would choose a contract that is $12 million more than Lumumba proposed.
“I’m gonna be more clear than I believe I’ve ever been for you,” Lumumba said. “I believe certain members of our council have taken bribes and are steering a contract.”
“Because he knows, and everybody else knows, Kenny Stokes has never taken a bribe and never will,” Stokes said. “If the mayor stated Kenny Stokes took a bribe, it’s time for him to put up or shut up.”
Lumumba defended the accusations he made at the meeting, explaining that he did not specifically name anyone who he suspected of taking bribes.
The Jackson mayor then mentioned Stokes’ increased attendance at the City Council meetings, which was not a normal occurrence for Stokes. Lumumba also questioned the relationship between Stokes and Ashby Foote, insinuating that they had a closer relationship since the proposed contract with Waste Management.
Stokes responded angrily over Lumumba’s comments to local news station WLBT, accusing the mayor of using drugs and claiming that he was going to get the FBI involved.
“I will have a formal letter to the US attorney and to the FBI asking them to contact the mayor. Ask the mayor for proof, and if the mayor cannot provide proof, I want the mayor to take a drug test. I think the mayor is smoking too much dope, and it’s affecting his thinking.”
A letter was hand-delivered by Stokes to the U.S. Attorney’s Office after the March 1 council meeting, calling Lumumba’s accusations “intentionally malicious and false.”
Lumumba defended himself against the councilman’s claims of drug use after the meeting.
“I have never done any drugs in my life. And that is foolish, right? I think that it was funny. You know, for those people who looked at it, but that’s what you expect from a clown is to always be funny,” Lumumba retorted.
Both the mayor and city councilman stated that they would take drug tests if required, while the emergency contract’s end date is scheduled for March 31.
Senator John Horhn, who ran against Lumumba for mayor in Jackson in 2014, commented on the debacle in a recent interview with SuperTalk Mississippi.
“I try not to listen to stuff like that because it really makes the city look bad. It’s unprofessional, it’s childish, and it needs to stop,” Horhn said. “If the State Auditor wasn’t looking at the city before, it certainly is looking at the city now.”
Shad White later explained that there was nothing that could be done from the auditor’s office to prevent these things from happening.
“We cannot routinely audit municipal entities, unfortunately,” White disclosed.
The City Council met again on March 4 to discuss the arguments between Stokes and Lumumba, attempting to put the issue between the council and mayor to rest.
A two-page agenda was prepared for the meeting with a large list of claims the City Council was dissatisfied with involving Lumumba’s claims.
Every council member, except Ashby Foote who was absent, spoke at the meeting and gave their opinion on the mayor’s actions. Councilman Stokes gave a statement, defending himself during the brief meeting:
“I’ve been called a lot of things since I’ve been a member of this council,” Stokes said. “I’ve been called fat, now they’re saying bribery, called me ugly, but I have never been called a liar. When Kenny Stokes says something, he can prove it. And whatever I say, I stand by it 100 percent.”
The last council member to speak was Aaron Banks from Ward Six, who insisted that the council has not spoken to the media about Lumumba at all amid the bribery claims.
“The mayor of this city said that certain council members are dealing with bribery in his belief,” Banks said. “Nobody has gotten on the media and said anything about the mayor from this council, or his family, or accused him of anything. Nobody, nobody has. That has never happened.”
Rukia Lumumba, the sister of the mayor, was an audience member during the meeting and began to speak after Banks’ finished his statement. Council President Virgi Lindsay quickly silenced Lumumba’s sister and asked her to leave the meeting.
Lindsay began the vote on the council’s proposed public statement, passing 3-1 with Angelique Lee and Virgi Lindsay abstaining. The three pro-votes came from Kenneth Stokes, Vernon Hartley, and Aaron Banks.
In response to the city council’s disapproval of Lumumba’s actions and claims of bribery, the mayor held a press conference to address his regret on March 7.
Lumumba expressed regret for the accusations he made between council members Kenneth Stokes and Ashby Foote, with WLBT reporting that Lumumba said the following:
“I do not feel that my accountability is to the council members,” said Lumumba. “My accountability is and always will be to the residents of Jackson, and I do not apologize for that.”
The mayor also defended the accusations of intimidation the council made about Lumumba’s security, explaining that he has seen intimidation on both sides.
At this time, Lumumba has not issued an official apology to the council members, but rather to Jackson citizens only.
A council meeting was also held on March 8 where the council made a final vote on the emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal.
Jackson City Attorney Catoria Martin spoke on the proposed contract, detailing the requirements that must be met by both the council and Richard’s Disposal. Martin received multiple questions regarding the contract, with Councilman Ashby Foote calling it “puzzling” during the meeting.
Councilman Kenneth Stokes asked a question to the council during the discussion of the contract, asking how it would be possible to terminate the contract. Councilman Aaron Banks responded that the contract would have to be voted against twice during the Tuesday meeting.
The council then voted against the contract twice, ending in a 4-1 vote with one abstaining both times. After the first vote against the contract, Martin warned the council that it was not advisable or legal, but the council continued the reconsidering of the contract.
Banks then began the discussion of the reconsidering, explaining that he believed that the contract was done out of “poor planning and poor motives.”
“You have to be kidding me. Do you know how much work I’ve spent on this RFP for you to say that I have publicly wasted time?” retorted Martin.
Martin quickly left the meeting after her comment and did not return for the remaining duration of the city council meeting.
The conclusion of the voting against the ratification of the contract with Richard’s Disposal prevents the council from creating another contract with the vendor for a year. Starting April 1, Richard’s Disposal will be the city of Jackson’s waste management collector for one year.
During the last item on the agenda, Stokes announced that he was planning to file a lawsuit against Lumumba for his claims of bribery. The lawsuit would qualify as a slander suit and Stokes expressed that he wished for legal representation to be provided to him from the city.
“At no time has Kenny Stokes taken a bribe and it’s time for everyone… if we have to go into a court of law to prove this, let’s do it,” WLBT reported Stokes saying.
His statement followed the agenda topic regarding if City Attorney Catoria Martin could represent Lumumba with the proposition passing 5-1. Stokes was the only council member that voted against the use of Martin as Lumumba’s attorney.
Stokes defended his vote, explaining that he should also receive a lawyer if the mayor was given one.
“In the past, the mayor would have to hire his own lawyer and then the determination would be made at the end of the case, whether you (won or lost),” Stokes explained in the meeting. “My concern is that (if) we’re going to start hiring lawyers in the beginning, I want to make sure you hire my lawyer, as I prepare to file a slander suit against the mayor.”
The Deputy City Attorney Terry Williamson denied Stokes’ wishes as hiring legal representation for a slander suit is “not something covered under the Torts Claim Act.”
After the Wednesday meeting, Lumumba filed suit seeking an emergency declaratory judgment against the seven-member council.
Lumumba wished for the court to find that the City Council cannot negotiate or execute contracts with waste collectors and cannot change his emergency order. He also asked the court to find that Lumumba can make emergency contracts with vendors.
The City Council met for an emergency meeting to discuss who would represent them in the lawsuit, with a final decision of a 5-2 vote for Martin & Martin Attorneys & Counselors in Jackson.
Waste Management removed the lawsuit they placed on the mayor and city council on March 16, stating that the goal was to ensure that Mississippi laws are being followed by officials.
The company also explained that they wished to avoid parallel lawsuits as the suits against the mayor, city council, and Stokes are still standing and offered to continue their services until April 30.
A court hearing was held on March 21 by Jess Dickinson, a former Supreme Court Justice, in the Hinds Chancery Court for the court case titled “Lumumba v. Jackson City Council.”
The Mississippi Supreme Court selected Dickinson to act as Chancellor for the case after all four Hinds Chancery Court judges recused themselves on March 11.
After two hours, Dickinson explained that he does not think the case needs a jury since there has been documentation of the entire ordeal and moved to settle the case based on submitted documents from both sides.
“I just don’t see the need to have a big trial if all we have is a legal dispute that requires me to look at the statutes and the documents to make a determination (on) what the legal rights of the parties are,” Dickinson stated. “I don’t see that we need a court reporter and to call witnesses… you can just simply submit documents by agreement unless some of you disagree the documents are valid.”
Attorneys were asked to decide if they agree with foregoing a trial by midnight of March 22 with hopes that the case can be closed swiftly as the current 28-year-old contract with Waste Management was set to expire at midnight on March 31.
Special Chancellor Jess Dickinson handed down a final verdict in the case Lumumba v. Jackson City Council on March 31 with outlined rights of authority detailed between both parties.
The final page in the verdict indicated that based on the Mississippi Constitution and statutes, authority does not go entirely to either the City Council or mayor during the contract-awarding process.
Details of authority included:
- The council does not have authority to negotiate and/or execute a contract for the collection of residential solid waste.
- The council cannot amend the mayor’s order of local emergency but must either approve or disapprove the order after it is declared.
- The mayor can find independent contractors/vendors who can provide emergency services and present contracts to the council for approval.
- Only the mayor can negotiate a contract for solid waste disposal for the City of Jackson.
- Whether a contract for solid waste disposal is negotiated through the request for proposals (RPF) process or an emergency order, the contract is not binding until the City Council approves it.
There was one exception to the last point, which was included in a footnote on the second page of the verdict. The footnote stated:
“For clarity, there does exist a possible exception not presented in this case thus far, where the Council rejects an emergency contract presented by the Mayor, the Mayor exercises his veto of the rejection, and the Council overrides the veto. The Mayor then would have the option of engaging the judicial system, claiming the Council was arbitrary and capricious in overriding the veto.”
This allegedly meant that the mayor had an additional route in pushing the proposed contract through without the full support of the City Council.
Lumumba was then reported to have sent a “Notice of Expiration” order to Waste Management following the verdict, confirming the end of the contract with the waste collection provider.
The next morning, Richard’s Disposal was seen collecting trash across Jackson with a “cease and desist” letter immediately sent to the contractor by attorney for the City Council Deshun Martin.
As the council did not approve a contract prior to April 1, payments were not authorized to Richard’s Disposal.
A special meeting between the mayor and City Council was scheduled for later that morning, where the council decided to vote down Lumumba’s emergency contract with Richard’s once again.
After the contract was voted down twice by the council, Lumumba issued a veto to override the council’s decision, a move of authority allegedly allowed to the mayor in Dickinson’s recent verdict.
Council members, however, argued whether the veto was valid as the measure had already been rejected.
Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks seemed humored by Lumumba’s veto and refused a copy when the mayor handed it to him.
“Everybody knows from the president all the way down, you can’t veto a no vote,” Banks refuted after the mayor’s announcement of a veto. “It’s not even an item. It’s dead.”
Councilman Kenneth Stokes of Ward 3 also agreed with Banks, adding that he was sure the council and mayor would go back to court over the disagreement.
Since then, the case between Lumumba and the City Council has continued, advancing to the Mississippi Supreme Court.