In his strongest statements yet about Jackson’s water crisis, Gov. Tate Reeves criticized the City of Jackson in a release Monday.
“We have been told by city officials that the Mayor of Jackson is planning to functionally end the city’s cooperation with the Unified Command Structure — the team that has been keeping Jackson water stable — by refusing to participate in the process of selecting a water operator alongside federal and state water experts as the Biden Administration repeatedly asked to be done,” the governor’s office stated in a press release Monday afternoon.
“That would be a huge mistake by the city. They would be communicating through this action that they no longer desire state assistance and insist on going it alone.”
Reeves’ statement is the latest in a volley between the state and city that has escalated throughout the city’s water crisis.
However, Lumumba said the city has no intention of ending the city’s cooperation with the Unified Command Structure.
“In fact, we continue to work closely with the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mississippi State Department of Health,” Lumumba said.
The present conflict seems to come from the state’s Friday announcement that it is seeking a private contractor to provide staffing for the city’s water system, including at the troubled O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. On Friday, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency began seeking requests for qualifications for staffing. The city had been seeking its own maintenance agreement contract for months, and Lumumba said the city should be involved in the discussions over who should be hired to work at the water plants it owns.
“What the city will not do, is agree to a Request for Qualifications, without the entire Unified Command Structure, which includes the City, having had an opportunity to first contribute, revise or approve the language. The funds that will be used to hire any firm working at the water treatment facilities will come from the City and its citizens,” Lumumba said.
Mutual aid agreements that have provided staff from across the country to work at the Curtis plant are set to expire Oct. 20, according to a MEMA news release.
Reeves said he is worried about the future of Jackson’s residents.
“Although politics is clearly his priority, we are simply trying to ensure that Jackson water does not fail again,” Reeves said in the release. “Ultimately, it may fall to the city council to rein in this radical gambit.
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According to Reeves’ press release, President Joe Biden’s EPA pressed the state to prepare a request for a water operator and take the lead in the logistical process of procuring it. Lumumba said that he should be included in those conversations as well.
“The City, with support from those who truly are invested in the repair and maintenance of the water treatment facilities, will have the final say,” Lumumba said. “The third-party management company will be working for the City. It is only reasonable to expect the City to play a role in hiring that company.
“Instead of issuing erroneous new releases, we invite the Governor to have an actual conversation with City leaders and our federal partners about the City’s water treatment plants. We have been ‘going it alone’ after years of asking for state support. We appreciate state leadership finally stepping to the table and supporting the residents of Jackson. We look forward to productive conversations that lead to an actual agreement, instead of a headline.”
The Department of Health had the city review the technical components of the request. As spelled out in the published RFQ, the City of Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Health score the bids and ultimately select the operator. None of them report to the governor’s office. The only role of MEMA is in the emergency procurement process.
“There is very little trust amongst any outside observer that the Mayor putting his thumb more heavily on the scale to select a vendor will lead to a better outcome than experts from the Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency having a seat at the table and ensuring that there are no games,” Reeves said. “He has proven time and time again that the benefit of the doubt cannot be given on contracts and water issues. I hope that he will reconsider this dangerous maneuver. The people of Jackson cannot afford another critical water failure due to a contract dispute akin to his garbage debacle.”
“Throughout this emergency, we have had to procure chemicals, workers, and materials for the city routinely because they were incapable of doing so,” Reeves said. “This is a continuation of that process in an unbiased way — led by technical experts.”Reeves said the state has poured millions of dollars from taxpayers of every county into this effort to rescue the “city from a crisis of incompetence. If the politicians of the city of Jackson are determined to reject every helping hand and regulatory enforcement action, they will find themselves in an even worse situation.”