There is an old saying: A failure to plan on your part does not create an emergency on my part.
Unfortunately, with government, a failure of local planning does indeed create an emergency for the citizens, at least those who don’t want stinky garbage piling up in their garages.
The City of Jackson, is asking for an emergency declaration.
There is no doubt the failure to pick up garbage is an emergency, especially if the city can be fined $25,000 a day. Problem is, this emergency declaration, I predict, will soon be an excuse to suspend normal bidding procedures and allow the mayor to negotiate a brother-in-law deal with some friendly garbage collection company.
Already, the mayor’s new garbage collection proposal stinks. It would double the price while cutting the service in half. Say what!!!???? That’s a four-fold increase in price. That’s nuts.
Under the latest proposal, city councilman Ashby Foote estimated the trash collection rate would rise from $20.20 a month per household to $35-$40 a month — and service would be reduced from two pickups per week to one per week.
City officials justify this price increase because it’s been 12 years since a price increase.
If you Google “historical CPI” you will see that prices have increased 26 percent in the last 12 years. So inflation would only justify a trash collection increase to $25 — a far cry from the proposed $35-$40 increase.
Picking up the trash has been one of the few things the City of Jackson has done well. Waste Management is timely and efficient and rarely screws up. The employees are courteous and hardworking. It would be a shame to throw out the one aspect of city services that is working well.
This all comes down to proper bidding procedures, an issue that has been dear to my heart for many years. If the city’s trash disposal contract is properly bid out, our citizens will get the best possible deal.
Unfortunately, the emergency declaration is a sign that city officials have no intention of following structured, careful, professional bidding procedures. Instead, it will be “hair on fire” management yet again.
So what are proper bidding procedures for a contract such as garbage pickup? For one thing, it is not a “request for proposal,” otherwise known as an RFP.
An RFP is a clear indication that the city, or any other governmental entity, does not have its act together. It’s like saying. “Hey, I don’t really know what I want you to do for me, so how about you make me a proposal?”
RFPs don’t lend themselves to proper bidding procedures since each company may make a different proposal, making the various proposals impossible to compare. Usually, RFPs just get the negotiations going. The more negotiations, the more subjective the process becomes, allowing the company with the best hunting camp excursions to win.
Cities are allowed to do this because Mississippi has horribly lenient statewide bidding laws, using the standard “lowest and best” bid. More advanced states use a higher standard, “lowest responsive bidder.”
The “lowest responsive bidder” standard underscores the requirement that a city or county actually specify exactly what they are seeking from an outside service provider. Once everyone knows what the city is looking for, they can then present a bid that meets those specifications. The city should then give the contract to the lowest bidder who is responsive to the city bid specifications.
How would this look for Jackson’s trash pickup contract? Well first of all, city officials should first create a document detailing all the requirements a trash contractor must meet to get the contract.
For example, Mayor Lumumba wants the contractor to clean up illegal dumping sites. Lumumba uses that as a reason to favor a different company, which has pitched that additional service.
I have no doubt Waste Management can figure out how to clean up illegal dumping sites, once the city lets them know that is part of the deal. There is no reason to exclude them without first giving them a chance to compete on an equal playing field.
Proper bid specifications should include all the requirements demanded by the city, such as cleaning up illegal dumping, so that all potential bidders have an equal opportunity to make a proposal. The proposals should be presented as a sealed bid with a formal opening ceremony that is transparent and open to the public. This is how you stop crony deals.
If reliability is an important factor for the city, then the city should put that in the bid specifications. If a certain pay scale for contract works is important to the city, then the city should specify that in the bid specifications.
Once the bid specifications are written, then the city should properly advertise to all possible bidders to ensure the absolute best deal for the citizens of Jackson. Each bidder should be required to put up a performance bond to ensure the city is made whole if a bidder wins and fails to deliver.
This is the way it used to be done back in the day of better government. This is the way the federal government handles most of its bidding. The state of Mississippi should create an independent Procurement Board and charge it with the responsibility to eliminate lax bidding standards and protect taxpayers.
This is a big deal. Several billion dollars in public contracts are issued every year in the state of Mississippi. Our bidding laws are some of the laxest in the nation.
The wide open federal spigots that have Covid and infrastructure money have just made matters worse. Just in the past weeks, numerous state agencies have requested “emergency exemptions” from the state’s already lax bidding laws.
The Mississippi Department of Education is using emergency exemptions on over $300 million in covid relief contracts. The contracts include an upgrade of the Mississippi Student Information System data system, the school safety program, the Mississippi career continuum program, the College and Career Readiness platform and a smorgasbord of laptop and computer services purchases.
State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright asked the state’s Public Procurement Review Board for approval of waivers of state procurement laws and regulations.
“I think a lot of due diligence on our part has been done,” Wright said to the board. “We want to make sure we are good stewards of the money that the federal government has given us and expend those funds in an appropriate manner to help our children.”
Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]