Could the waste problem affect the mayor’s future?
Residents of Jackson live with an aging water and sewer system in need of repair, streets with potholes and, now, a change in vendors that has left them wondering when their trash will be collected in the streets of the city.
Re-election is three years away, but could the uncertain state of garbage collection affect the mayor and city council’s chances of winning another term?
“When you talk about trash, it sounds like a minor thing or one that wouldn’t affect someone’s career trajectory, but things like trash are what irritate people,” said Marty Wiseman, Ph. D., professor emeritus of political science and director emeritus of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University.
While a city certainly has other important issues to address, garbage collection is a highly visible municipal service and a direct reminder of the quality or mismanagement of this basic service, he said.
“What can you say about a town that can’t even pick up the trash? Wiseman said, suggesting how a resident might think. “So it gets personal.”
If a problem is resolved quickly, residents tend to forget and forgive, he said.
“What did Richard Nixon say,” Wiseman asked, then continued, “public memory is two weeks old.”
The city of Jackson is among nine in the state with the mayor-council form of government. Hattiesburg, Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, Laurel, Meridian, Tupelo and Greenwood are the others.
“The mayor has significant power,” Wiseman said. “He has all the day-to-day administration, chooses department heads and the board confirms them. Department heads serve at the pleasure of the mayor.
“It’s called the mayor-council form of government and authority rests with the mayor,” he said. “That’s why it’s called a strong mayor form of government.”
The council is the legislative body that establishes general policy and local laws in the form of ordinances and resolutions.
A mayor and council can get upset when the council wants to run the city beyond its power to do so, Wiseman said.
In the case of garbage collection, it was up to the mayor and his administrative team to issue a call for tenders for garbage collection, evaluate the responses and present a contract to the city council for approval. He did so, but the board repeatedly rejected his recommendations.
The city’s contract with Waste Management expired on March 31. Residents have been left with Richard’s Disposal operating under a disputed emergency contract as legal action continues between the mayor and city council over a contract.
Nathan R. Shrader, associate professor of government and politics at Millsaps College, believes it’s early in the mayor’s second term and council members and voters may not remember all the details of the disagreements. on the garbage contract, but they will remember that it was a complicated issue that complicated relations.
“It’s definitely something he will have inherited,” Shrader said of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
Shrader wonders how the mayor and council are going to restore trust so they can do the city’s job.
“There’s going to be lingering hostility and they’re still going to have to work together on other contracts, economic development and roads,” he said. “That doesn’t bode well for the trust factor.”
Voters elect the mayor and city council and expect them to deal with complex issues while they go about their jobs and raise their families, he said.
“It’s like a microcosm of what we see in Congress, but it’s not partisan,” he said. “It plays out in a personal way.”
Shrader considers the lowest point in the breakdown of the garbage contract negotiations to be when the mayor accused Ward 1 councilman Ashby Foote and Ward 3 councilman Kenneth Stokes of agreeing to bribes, and then Stokes accused Lumumba of taking drugs, all without evidence.
Foote admits that the mayor and council’s contentious actions are weakening trust in city leaders.
“It undermines people’s trust in city government when they see us getting contentious on an issue, garbage collection, that you take for granted,” he said. “It doesn’t build trust. Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible.
Shrader suggests voters consider that studies show elected officials who are women are much more able to solve problems in a less resentful way than their male counterparts.
“Perhaps we need to remember that women as peacemakers and in leading discussions and negotiations are more effective than men.”