Kishia Powell Faces Tough Roads at Public Works | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Kishia Powell Faces Tough Roads at Public Works

As the city's public works director, Kishia Powell will earn $150,000 per year—$3,000 more than the mayor—to help oversee a federal consent decree that requires the city to fix its sewers so they will stop discharging untreated wastewater into local rivers, which could come with a price tag of as much as $400 million.

As the city's public works director, Kishia Powell will earn $150,000 per year—$3,000 more than the mayor—to help oversee a federal consent decree that requires the city to fix its sewers so they will stop discharging untreated wastewater into local rivers, which could come with a price tag of as much as $400 million. Photo by Trip Burns.

Earlier this week, Kishia Powell became the city of Jackson's highest-paid employee. She may also have the toughest job in the capital.

In the next few years, Jackson will spend more than $1 billion—more than the city of New Orleans' proposed 2014 budget—on infrastructure projects.

As the city's public works director, Powell will earn $150,000 per year—$30,000 more than the mayor—to help oversee a lot of that work, including a federal consent decree that requires the city to fix its sewers so they will stop discharging untreated wastewater into local rivers, which could come with a price tag of as much as $400 million.

In addition, the city recently voted to levy a sales-tax hike to pay for other upgrades while renovations on major thoroughfares of Fortification and Capitol Street slog toward completion.

Powell joins the city just ahead of the annual budget process and as city officials scramble to answer financial questions that recently arose around a number of projects. For example, work on Fortification Street has grinded to a halt for nearly two months now. The city contracted with Florence-based Hemphill Construction Construction Company Inc. to improve Fortification. The initial contract was worth $8.9 million, but the cost ballooned by at least $2 million to bring the total cost to approximately $11 million.

At a July 15 city council meeting, council members made a $1.3 million payment to Hemphill for the project despite the fact that work along Fortification Street west of State Street had at that time, according to Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman, been at a "standstill" for about 45 days while the city tries to come up with about $500,000 for the contractors. Meanwhile, residents say construction equipment has also been removed from Fortification.

During her confirmation hearing the morning of July 29, Mayor Tony Yarber said Powell, the first woman to head public works, "has set herself apart in a male-dominated profession" and that her experience "raises the bar" for the department, which has lacked a permanent director since Yarber came into office in late April.

Powell, a Maryland native, formerly helmed Baltimore's water and wastewater bureau, where she supervised nearly 2,000 workers and oversaw a $1 billion wastewater consent decree.

Prior to coming to Jackson, Powell worked for U.K.-based engineering consulting firm AMEC, and her past experience includes project assignments in Ohio, Virginia, California and Indiana.

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