2 weeks, no trash collection: Here's why garbage is piling up in Jackson, Mississippi

 Mississippi's capital city of Jackson, recently reeling from decades of infrastructure neglect that led to a water crisis, now has garbage bags piling up as the city's leaders are at a standstill over who should pick up the trash.

The city has gone over two weeks without trash collection amid a power struggle between the city council and the mayor over the contract for the city's garbage collection.

The Jackson City Council failed to ratify a contract for Richard’s Disposal Inc. to pick up the city's trash on April 1, so for the first time in modern history, the state's largest city and its predominantly Black residents are going without garbage removal.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said after multiple meetings with the council and no resolution, talks with the previous contract holder have broken down. Council members hope a court hearing on Monday will end in a decision allowing them to bypass the mayor and negotiate a contract on their own.

Meanwhile, residents have been hiring private companies to haul their trash, bringing it to quickly filling city dumpsters themselves or waiting as trash piles up in their yards. Still, their trash bills from the city continue.

Lengthy power struggle comes to a head

  • Rejection: City council declined multiple times to adopt a 6-year-contract for Richard’s Disposal Inc. Some members said the city had better options.
  • Attempted veto: Lumumba attempted to veto the council's rejection of the disputed contract. The state Supreme Court ruled last month that he acted improperly.
  • Trash collected on emergency contract: Amid legal wrangling, Richard’s Disposal has been collecting garbage in Jackson since Lumumba awarded an emergency contract.
  • Trash collectors not paid: The company worked several months without receiving money, then filed a lawsuit last July to demand compensation. In October, the company said it would stop picking up garbage unless it received money, and the city then agreed to make payments.
  • Most recent vote was split: Councilmembers were split 3-3, with one member abstaining, on whether to adopt the Richard's contract.
  • The end result: There is no current trash contract for the city.
No dumpster appears to have been delivered to the former library site on Northside Drive at Manhattan Road as of Wednesday. Garbage bags are continuing to pile up at the site directly adjacent to an apartment complex to the east, Chastain Middle School to the north, Smilow Prep Charter School to the west, and Manhattan Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and St Richard's Catholic School to the south.

Trash 'crisis' piles onto historical infrastructure issues

Late last August, excessive rainfall led to flooding of the Pearl River and failure at the city's largest water treatment plant. 150,000 residents were left without safe water to drink, bathe or cook. The crisis wasn't the first time the city had water supply issues, including previous lead concerns and boil advisories.

It was a flashpoint that turned national attention to decades of racial inequality, neglect of infrastructure and poverty. 

JACKSON WATER CRISIS:The crisis can't be disentangled from race, experts say

Now, residents are having to figure out what to do with the trash on their own. A solution for trash pickup in the meantime remains at a standstill, and Lumumba warned a new request-for-proposal process with other vendors could take weeks or months.

Lumumba called the lack of a contract a "crisis" in early April.

What's next?

A hearing date is scheduled April 17 for the lawsuit brought by the council, members announced.

Meanwhile, residents are "suffering, and we are in a very difficult space," Lumumba acknowledged after six days of garbage building up. Richard's employees had collected  signatures on a petition to urge the city's council to have a new hearing so they can go back to work.

The council and Lumumba had three emergency meetings in as many days in the last week with no resolution to the problem, and now the state auditor is looking into whether it was right for the council to hire its own attorneys in the fight.

Household garbage collection sites with dumpsters have been set up. At one such site, over 100 cars were lined up when it opened last week. One resident, Justin Ragin, said he'd charge residents to collect bagged trash himself, but responses were "too many to count."

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