City Approves Financial Advisory Team | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

City Approves Financial Advisory Team

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After a month-long stand-off, Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. got approval from the City Council for his handpicked financial advisory committee on a $90-million water project.

After a month of squabbling over details and timeliness, the Jackson City Council approved the mayor's financial advisory team for the city's $90-million water system enhancement project Dec. 17.

On two previous occasions, council members refused to vote on $400,000 in contracts for bond counsel and financial advisers in the Council's Economic Development Committee. Members' reasons for not voting ranged from concern that the mayor has not signed a contract with lead contractor Siemens Corp. to worries about open-ended language regarding contractors' expenses that could lead to bigger bills for the city.

Councilmen Quentin Whitwell of Ward 1 and Frank Bluntson of Ward 4 said at previous meetings that they would not approve the financial advisory team until Mayor Harvey Johnson signed the contract with Siemens.

The Siemens-led project will include upgrades to the city's water-treatment plants, improvements to water pipes, installation of digital water meters, a new water usage tracking system and a new bill-payment system. Siemens has guaranteed the city that the project will pay for itself in long-term savings and increased revenue.

The city will need to sell bonds to finance the project in the short-term. Johnson said the city needs the financial advisory team to assure the bonds will be marketable before he signs off on the contract with Siemens.

Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, also in the running for mayor, said he was concerned that the city administration was trying to negotiate some of the subcontractors that Siemens hire. He agreed to approve the financial advisory team only with an amendment that all bonds come before the Council for approval.

Whitwell added another amendment that capped financial contractor's out-of-pocket expenses at $5,000. Whitwell also included an amendment that will terminate all financial contracts if the city does not sign a contract with Siemens by Jan. 31.

The city will pay $170,000 to Baker Donelson and Anthony Simon for bond counsel, $125,000 to Malachi Financial Products for financial advice and $100,000 to the Begley Law Firm and Betty Mallett for underwriting the bonds.

DOJ Approves Redistricting

The U.S. Department of Justice has pre-cleared the city's redistricting plan.

The pre-approval allows the city to plan next year's elections under the new 
ward lines.

The biggest redistricting change came in Wards 1 and 7. The Lefleur East neighborhood, bordered by Meadowbrook Road and Lakeland Drive to the north and south, and Interstate 55 and Ridgewood Road to the west and east, will move from its previous designation in Ward 1 to Ward 7. Ward 1 includes most of the city east of Interstate 55. Ward 7 includes Fondren, Belhaven and parts of downtown and south Jackson.

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