Natchez city government is under fire for debating, outside of the view of the public, who should receive Natchez’s garbage collection contract. Now the Mississippi Justice Institute has filed a complaint to challenge Natchez’s illegal actions at the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
The controversy started in April 2018 when Natchez city leaders refused to make public the proposals of garbage collection vendors who were competing for the city garbage collection contract. Also, when local reporters from The Natchez Democrat and citizens asked to attend a board of aldermen meeting where the contract would be discussed, city leaders barred their entry. The City did the same on May 1 and again on May 3, 2018.
“Natchez city leaders violated the Open Meetings Act in this case,” said Shadrack White, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute (MJI). “MJI fights in cases like this to serve as a watchdog for normal Mississippians and taxpayers. Natchez leaders are not spending their own money. They’re debating about how to spend taxpayer money. The people of Natchez deserve to know how their money will be spent.”
White joins Paul D. Sullivan, a Natchez attorney, who had previously filed a complaint against Natchez regarding the April 23 and May 1 meetings. White’s complaint addresses the May 3 meeting. Sullivan and White’s complaints will likely be considered together at the Mississippi Ethics Commission. The Natchez Democrat has also filed a separate complaint against Natchez.
Natchez leaders have claimed they have a right to discuss contract negotiations in executive session, in private, because state law allows for private discussions about the “expansion of a business.” But “that law is plainly about protecting privacy during economic development project talks, not about shielding contract debates from the public,” said White.
“Our case is pretty simple here,” said White. “The city can’t debate and negotiate a contract out of public view. There’s an Attorney General opinion that says as much. This case will have far- reaching implications, because contracts like these are negotiated all the time. Contract selection should be open to save taxpayers money and to ensure no backroom dealing is happening.”
The Natchez Democrat has reported that city leaders, after their closed-door meetings, chose a new vendor to receive the garbage collection contract last week. The result was a 25% increase in garbage collection prices for Natchez residents.
“Just as we fought and won our ethics case against the City of Columbus in 2017, we intend on fighting and winning this case, too,” said White.
For more information, visit MJI’s website at www.msjustice.org.
Mississippi Justice Institute Press Release