City in Crossfire of Sewer Service Contract | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

City in Crossfire of Sewer Service Contract

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Jackson Ward 1 City Councilman Jeff Weill has raised more than $70,000 in his bid for a Hinds County Circuit Court seat.

The city of Jackson is caught in the middle of two conflicting court orders regarding its controversial sewer services contract. The orders come after an Aug. 12 appeal the city made to the Mississippi Supreme Court to retain its current provider, Jackson Water Partners, until the Supreme Court resolves a lawsuit United Water Services filed over the city's bidding process.

Yesterday, Hinds County Chancery Court Judge DeWayne Thomas ordered the city not to hand over its sewer contract to United Water Services of Mississippi, LLC: "The city should be enjoined and prevented from either terminating its agreement with JWP or taking any action to remove or preclude JWP from performing its obligations under the agreement, including, but not limited to entering into a wastewater contract for wastewater services with any other party or entity including United water," the order states.

Jackson Water Partnership sought an injunction in chancery court arguing that the termination of the contract would do harm to the company. Calls to Jackson Water Partnership co-owner Socrates Garrett about why his company filed the motion in chancery court were not immediately returned.

But the chancery court order counters an earlier order by Circuit Court Judge Swan Yerger for the city to hand over its contract to United Water Services. Yerger re-affirmed an earlier decision that the city should transfer its Jackson Water Partnership contract to United Water. "To make clear the court's intention, the court hereby orders the city of Jackson and United Water to execute a contract for United Water to take over management of the city of Jackson wastewater facilities," Yerger wrote yesterday. "The contract should be executed no later than 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 19, 2010, and no later than noon Friday, August 20, 2010."

Last week, City Attorney Pieter Teeuwissen said switching service provides before the lawsuit was resolved is a bad idea. Teeuwissen could not be reached for comment today.

"It's not in anyone's best interest to transfer operators until the Supreme Court has had what will be the final say on this process," Teeuwissen said. "With several unresolved questions, it makes sense to continue the status quo until all the questions are resolved. ... I don't think the city wants to be flip-flopping between providers."

Yerger entered his order demanding the city hand over its contract to United Water Services after United Water Services convinced the judge that the city had altered its 2008 request for bid proposal process to suit Jackson Water Partnership.

The city's Public Works Department recommended that the council should give United Water the contract in 2008, but United Water's Hinds County Circuit Court complaint claims the council rejected public works' recommendation twice, and ordered "that the city negotiate with other vendors to allow them to match United Water's proposal." As a result of those negotiations, according to United Water, "JWP lowered the total cost of its proposal by approximately $430,000."

Even though JWP's new price still surpassed United Water's bid, public works, according to United Water's complaint, eventually recommended JWP as the contractor because of its "added community involvement component," which "trumped the $800,000 price differential."

Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Weill said JWP's added community involvement was not a component of the original proposal.

"The (request for proposal) did not contain these extra requests. I don't believe the demands made matched the RFPs," Weill said today.

Thomas argued in his Thursday decision that "JWP is threatened with and will suffer real, imminent and irreparable injury and harm if the city is allowed to unilaterally terminate or modify the terms of" it's city contract."

The chancery court decision relieves the council of some anxiety, Weill said, because the city council faced an August 20 deadline to transfer the contract or suffer legal consequences from the circuit court.

"There's so much up in the air right now, I believe the city attorney has appealed it to the Mississippi Supreme Court to sort out, and I feel that given the conflicting orders, the courts will understand the council's confusion and neither court will likely levee sanctions," Weill said.

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