Jackson City Council members on a 5-2 vote in executive session Tuesday formally approved a plan to settle a $4.8 million lawsuit with Richard’s Disposal Inc. but stood firm in their refusal to award the company a long-term contract to collect garbage.The move follows a threat late last week that garbage collection would halt over the weekend unless the firm was paid for services rendered under an emergency contract issued by Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba but never ratified by the council.
Richard’s has continued to pick up trash in the city since April despite not being paid as the mayor and council battled over awarding a contract. As of Tuesday, Richard’s had still not been paid but resumed garbage pickup Monday.
Attorneys DeShun Martin and John Scanlon represent council members in the case. Scanlon said following Tuesday’s executive session that the council has approved a plan that would allow payment to Richard’s as a means to settle the lawsuit, but that any such settlement would have to also be approved by U.S. Southern District Judge Kristi Johnson. The exact timing of when that could happen remains unclear.
The beginning of Tuesday’s council meeting was met with a huge crowd inside the council chambers, many of them representing a citizen’s group called “Working Together Jackson.”
The group held a press conference outside City Hall just prior to the meeting calling on council members to ratify the contract with Richard’s. Bishop Ronnie Crudup, pastor of New Horizon Church said it is time for the city to settle the garbage controversy and move on to more pressing issues.
From earlier this year:Jackson’s garbage contract dispute grows in tit-for-tat between mayor and councilman
“They (Richard’s) have done a great job. We think they deserve a six-year contract,” Crudup said.
Crudup was joined by Rev. Jimmie Edwards, pastor of Rosemount Missionary Baptist Church (and president of the Jackson Ministerial Fellowship); Rabbi Debra Kassoff, a member of Beth Israel Synagogue; and Pastor Gregory Divinity of New Vineyard Church.
Divinity also spoke inside the council chambers, asking the council to “do the right thing” by settling the contract dispute.
“We need to end this endless cycle and award the contract to Richard’s,” Divinity said.
But DeShun Martin insisted the council is within its rights to continue to support the city’s previous vendor, Waste Management. He also said under the terms of the proposal Waste Management will be prepared to resume collection of the city’s garbage as early as January.
That decision prompted a reply from Lumumba via a press release stating: “Once again, the council fails to understand the law and the limitations of their office. They do not hold any positions that allow them to present a contract to Waste Management or any other vendor.”
Lumumba was not present at Tuesday’s meeting with one official saying he was absent due to illness.
Which vendor meets the state’s criteria as “lowest and best” bidder could hinge partly on the term “bin” and what inconvenience, if any, using a company-provided bin would cause for residents.
Responding to Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who stated his belief that Waste Management offered the best bid, City Attorney Torri Martin said Richard’s bid was for $756,000 per month with the company providing bins for customers to place their trash in, while Waste Management’s bid was $858,000 per month, allowing customers to continue to use their own garbage bags or cans.
Torri Martin said that while customers would be expected to use the company-provided bins under Richard’s proposal, she expected exceptions would be made for elderly residents or anyone who found it difficult to use the bins.
Asked how the council could justify Waste Management’s bid as best when it was more than $100,000 higher per month than the bid from Richard’s, DeShun Martin insisted that state bidding laws do not necessarily require officials to pick the lowest bid. Rather it is the vendor who proves they are most capable of doing the job properly, he said.
He also framed the argument in terms of the right of the council, and not the mayor unilaterally, to award contracts.
“The order is simple — the majority rules. Richard’s has never gotten a majority vote,” said DeShun Martin representing council members.
Council members have insisted that without a legally binding contract they do not have the authority to pay invoces from Richard’s and that the proposed payment was instead intended as a lawsuit settlement.