Closing the Clean-Up Deal | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Closing the Clean-Up Deal

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Levee Board member Socrates Garrett said he approved a new conflict-of-interest policy to move flood control along the Pearl River forward.

The city may have brought to a close the troubled business relationship between local debris-removal contractor Garrett Construction Company and Pearl River, Miss.-based Nungesser Industries.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes seemed anxious Tuesday morning before the council voted 6-to-0 to authorize a final payment of $27,680 to Garrett Construction for debris removal after a series of storms hit the city in April 2008. The vote amounted to an increase of about $17,938, resulting in a combined final cost of slightly more than $3 million to Garrett Construction. Stokes fretted, however, that attorneys for Nungesser Industries had approached him with concerns about the Louisiana subcontractor getting short-changed by Garrett Construction.

"There's an attorney here today representing a contractor who claims they have not been completely compensated," Stokes said. "The concern is that if we don't find a way to pay them, the company will start suing us, and that's something we don't need to go through."

Acting Mayor Leslie McLemore will step down as mayor this week, making way for returning Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. McLemore said he did not know enough of the contract dispute to resolve the matter.

Ward 4 Councilman Charles Tillman said the council had no time to work on the issue, since they were voting for final payment to Garrett Construction today.

"If we had more time we could look into it and take action on it, but time has run out on us," Tillman said.

Jackson attorney John Arthur Eaves, who is representing Nungesser, would not comment on the issue, saying he hoped to work with the city before turning to the courts for intervention.

The relationship between Nungesser and Garrett Construction has puzzled city residents for months. The council voted in 2008 to hire Garrett Construction for debris removal after a tornado tore through the city's northern territory, toppling trees and doing millions of dollars in damage. Former Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, who died this year after losing the Democratic primary, made it plain at the time of the council's decision to contract Garrett, that he preferred Nungesser.

Despite handily winning the Jackson City Council contract, Garrett Construction owner Socrates Garrett was claiming at the time that Nungesser was busily removing trees without council authorization. Council members told reporters that the company would not be paid for its work if it were not properly contracted through the Council.

Later that week, city officials announced that Nungesser had subcontracted with Garrett, though Garrett initially reported no knowledge of a subcontract through his own company. McLemore, who was council president at the time, said he suspected Melton had pressured Garrett Enterprises to take Nungesser on as a subcontractor.

"Undue pressure shouldn't be brought to bear on the contractor to do business with a favorite subcontractor that the mayor has. There's been this interference, and this wishy-washy approach to public policy that is something the city of Jackson does not deserve," McLemore said.

At the time, Garrett would not refute that Melton had threatened to cancel his contract over a technicality if he did not subcontract through Nungesser, though Melton quickly denied the threat. He described Garrett as greedy with the city contract, and added that the local business-owner needed to share the work with others.

"The rest of that stuff; just forget about it, because it's about competition, it's about greed and it's about money, and I'm not going to put up with it," Melton said.

This week Garrett said the final payment to Nungesser would be sorted out with the help of this final payment from the city.

"When the council signed that payment this morning, we should be clear with the sub-contractor," Garrett said.

Public Works Director Thelmon Boyd said the city had been waiting for its 2008 storm clean-up cost requests to be approved by MEMA.

"After they are approved, we will come back and make sure the contractor is paid correctly," Boyd told members of the council on Tuesday. "Garrett has paid everybody through our funding. I think Garrett's subcontractor may not have gotten paid because of this final payment that they have not gotten from the city. Hopefully, it will be cleared up now."

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