Two weeks ago, I wrote that Jackson’s water crisis “was one of the most colossal failures of municipal government in the history of our country.”
Well, finally, the rest of the world took notice. Dozens of major national media published articles. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and US President Joe Biden have declared a state of emergency and a national emergency. A command center was set up at the OB Curtis water plant. The Mississippi Emergency and Management Agency is now involved. The Mississippi National Guard distributes bottled water to residents.
It was time.
It’s not like this crisis came out of nowhere. And how high water levels in Jackson Reservoir from excessive rainfall caused unsafe water is a complete mystery and probably a very long story. Yet another apology from our mayor.
On March 30, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency released a scathing report on Jackson’s water system. It listed dozens of major problems and a gross understaffing. It was time for Mayor Lumumba to take quick and immediate action. But he did not do it. Instead, he sat on the report, not releasing it to the media and not even reporting it to his city council. A councilman called the mayor’s cover-up “criminal”.
When you hide the start of one of the biggest municipal disasters in the country’s history and do nothing until it deprives 200,000 people of water, there is only one action left : resignation.
Mayor Chockwe Lumumba should do the honorable thing and step down from his post immediately. He needs to step aside and let more competent people fix this horrible mess.
There is no way for Lumumba to blame anyone but himself. He was in office for five years, during which time our water works were left in a state of total disrepair. Complex systems were not maintained. The software has not been updated. Automatic systems failed and were replaced by impossible attempts at manual controls by understaffed and untrained staff.
All the while, Lumumba just talked, talked, talked, blame, blame, blame while Rome continued to burn. Lumumba likes to boast that Jackson is “the most radical city in the country”. If radical means running out of drinking water, I guess there are few radicals left in the city.
This crisis is costing the people of Jackson a million dollars a day.
It took 13,210 votes for Lumumba to win the 2021 Democratic primary for re-election. I wonder how many of those voters were getting free water because their water bills had been suspended. It’s a great way to buy votes. Free water. Except now water isn’t just free, it’s non-existent. And the cost of bottled water at the store far exceeds the suspended water bills.
The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money. As water utility revenues skyrocketed, money for maintenance and salaries disappeared. There was no way to borrow money. The city has long since exhausted its credit card. So what to do? Sweep it under the rug and hope for the best. It’s a hell of a way to govern.
The appropriate action was to sound the alarm and plead with state and federal leaders for immediate help. But Lumumba’s pride was too great. Pride precedes the fall.
Even Bennie Thompson, another Democratic Party member, criticized the mayor for his failure to come up with a plan.
Cities like Madison and Ridgeland were already reaching out to state leaders for matching ARPA funds for much less urgent projects. But Lumumba’s plan was nowhere to be found. Instead, Lumumba spent his energy getting involved in a silly battle with his city council over the garbage contract.
The Roman Emperor Nero is still talked about today for playing the violin while Rome was burning. This is exactly what Mayor Lumumba did. He groped as our sewage treatment deteriorated into total malfunction.
All the mayor had to do was hire a good city manager. All he had to do was contract with a big headhunting company and say, “Find me the best, most experienced city manager in the United States. I will pay him what it costs. In fact, I editorialized on these same pages in 2017 urging the newly elected mayor to do so.
Instead, he has surrounded himself with academics and has no experience in running a city, let alone one on the brink of an infrastructure crisis. It was only a matter of time before reality set in.
Newsflash to Mayor Lumumba. It’s not a game. It’s not playing. It’s a real city with real problems and real people who need to consume water daily to live. This requires real management, not political hot air. We don’t need you telling us in great technical detail how the factory is failing, we need you to fix it.
Lumumba arrogantly demands billions from state and federal leaders to fix Jackson’s problems, but he won’t do the planning and politics to make it happen. Then he turns around and falsely accuses state agencies of not paying their water bills. Good work.
The main functions of a city are to keep the streets safe, collect trash, and keep toilets flush. Mayor Lumumba failed on all three counts. Our murder rate has tripled. We cannot drink the water. Our toilets are not working. Our restaurants, hospitals and schools are closing. Our trash collection is mired in another dumb legal appeal from the mayor that he is sure to lose, costing millions in legal fees.
Look at the table above. This is a list of how Jackson plans to spend his $42 million in ARPA money. Incredibly, the mayor plans to spend almost as much on Farish Street and the money-losing convention center as he does on the sewage treatment plant. It’s crazy! Please note that no cents have been spent on “wastewater treatment projects” so far.
At this rate, the state takeover of Jackson will take another big step forward. Jackson’s water will be removed from the city and given, most likely, to an independent board. Either way, it will probably be for the best.
But the simplest solution to the whole mess would have been for the people of Jackson to elect a competent leader instead of a scion of soundbites and political chatter.