Looking at Jackson’s trash disposal situation, you have to wonder if Mayor Lumumba’s new motto is “if it ain’t broke, break it.”
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Jackson’s roads, water, police, courts, schools, zoning and parks, but I’ve hardly ever heard anyone complain about the trash disposal. It’s been the one thing Jackson’s done right.
And now Mayor Lumumba seems dead set on firing Waste Management and bringing in somebody new. Why?
The latest somebody new is Richard’s Disposal, whose claim to fame is its waste disposal contracts for parts of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Richard’s Disposal is an owner operated by Alvin Richard Jr. and his son Alvin Richard III. They started the company and now have 125 employees.
In comparison, Waste Management is a $15 billion public company with 45,000 employees. Their stock has done well over the last decade.
As an independent businessman, I have nothing against smaller companies. They often do a great job. But it is interesting to note the vast contrast.
Mayor Lumumba and Alvin Richards did not impress the Jackson City Council, which voted 4-2 to nix the mayor’s proposal. It’s the third time the mayor’s trash proposal has been trashed by the council.
The main problem is that the entire process for choosing a trash collector is screwed up. I don’t overly blame the mayor for this because most of our government contract bidding in Mississippi is screwed up. For this, you can blame the state legislature, not Mayor Lumumba.
Although state law does not require the mayor to do this right, the mayor is perfectly free to do it the right way on his own. If he did, he could get the city council to approve a contract.
So what is the right way to do this? Simple. Clear bid specifications and a sealed bidding process in which all bidders are on an equal playing field.
First the mayor could work with the city council to determine what they want included in a trash disposal contract. If you want the workers to make $15 an hour, then specify that in the contract. If you want twice-a-week pickup, specify that in the contract. If you want the waste disposal company to take the entire city council to the Super Bowl every year, specify that in the contract.
So first, you have your bid specifications that are published, open and transparent to all. Then you solicit sealed bids. Then you open them in a public ceremony where everything is transparent. The sealed bids are opened and the low bidder is announced.
Some countries and states don’t choose the lowest bidder. They choose the second lowest bidder on the grounds that the lowest bidder is too extreme and out of line. There are lots of variations on this theme, but the main concepts are 1) clear bid specifications and 2) an open, transparent bidding process.
But this is not the way it’s being done in Jackson. Instead, the mayor is using a process called an RFP which stands for Requests for Proposals.
RFPs have become all the rage over the last few decades, eclipsing sealed bids as the main way government contracts are issued. This is not a good change.
My joke is that RFP stands for Related Friends and Pals. It’s a vague, mushy way of conducting business that allows for subjective influencing towards a favored bidder. It’s a big step toward cronyism.
For one thing, RFPs are backwards. Instead of Jackson telling the bidders what Jackson wants, the bidders tell Jackson what services they want to provide. It puts the bidders in the driver’s seat, which is backwards.
By soliciting “requests for proposals” the city gets four different proposals from four different companies. This begs the question, how do you compare the four proposals if they are all different?
Ah ha, that’s where the magic comes in. The mayor and his employees form a committee to “weight” each proposal based on their entirely subjective opinions. It’s about as imprecise a process as you could dream up. The mayor and his committee have all the power and influence to make sure their guy wins the bid.
Some dedicated readers may recall years ago the Northside Sun won the top state award for investigative reporting. It was a story on a bidding contract involving then Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber and Socrates Garrett to dispose of solid waste from the city’s sewage treatment facility.
This contract was also done using an RFP process. The Sun, through a whistleblower, discovered that an unfavored bidder won through the weighting process. Yarber then told his committee to re-weight the proposals so Garrett would win, which he did, despite having a proposal that was over a million dollars more expensive.
It was a classic example of how a mayor using the RFP process could favor a particular bidder. In this case, Socrates Garrett, who was Yarber’s campaign finance director. Fortunately, the Sun’s exposure stopped this chicanery, saving city taxpayers millions.
When the city council refused to approve Lumumba’s first trash proposal, I wrote that the mayor was going about it the wrong way and needed to do this the right way. Unfortunately, he did not take my advice. So here we are with yet another rejected proposal.
The question is this: How many times do we have to play this charade until the mayor follows appropriate bidding procedures? He can blame the city council all he wants, but the fault lies squarely on his shoulders.
Another flaw in the bidding process is the use of required minority subcontractors. Once again, the state legislature is to blame for allowing this adulteration of our bidding laws. It’s just asking for corruption. Unbelievably, Lumumba and Richard could not answer the city council when asked who the minority subcontractors are. Wow!
It’s hard to imagine how a city that is 85 percent African American needs special exemptions for minority contractors. And in Jackson, just who is the minority? But that’s another issue.
I can tell you this, there is no racial conflict over garbage. All citizens are united. We want our trash picked up efficiently and economically. The mayor needs to make that happen by using an appropriate bidding process.