JACKSON, Ms. (TSTIME) — Jackson’s troubled water system could gain a new set of owners under legislation introduced Tuesday by Mississippi Republican lawmakers.
The bill would transfer ownership to a new public entity overseen by a nine-member council, the majority of which would be appointed by state leaders. Republicans control both houses of the Mississippi Legislature, as well as the governor’s mansion. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, has said he wants the city to retain control of the water.
Legislation sent by committee to Mississippi’s full senate is the state’s most recent response to a water crisis that has caused repeated power outages, leaving many in the city of about 150,000 days and weeks without water to drink, cooking, bathing or flushing toilets. The problems have also increased the financial strain on companies.
“I’ve been attending economic development meetings this year with people telling me they might not want to come to Mississippi because we don’t have water here,” said Senator David Parker, a Republican from Olive Branch. “So whether we like it or not, we have a problem here that we need to address.”
The bill, introduced by Parker, would transfer water, wastewater and stormwater services provided by Jackson to the “ownership, management and control” of a new public utility district after an interim manager appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice has been appointed to oversee the water system, has made its decision. work.
The Justice Department has appointed Ted Henifin, a former public works director from Virginia, as its interim manager after it received a federal judge’s approval to make a rare intervention. Henifin said he plans to leave his position in a year or less, although the federal judge’s order does not require him to do so.
The proposed Mississippi Capitol Region Utility Authority would be created once a majority of a nine-member council is appointed. It would take ownership of the water system when a federal court terminates Henifin’s position.
Four appointments would be reserved for the mayor of Jackson, but he would have to “consult” with mayors of nearby Byram and Ridgeland on two of those appointments. The governor would make three appointments to the board, and the lieutenant governor would make two. All nine nominations would need to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Lumumba has said in the past that he wants the city to retain ownership of the water system. A member of his staff said he could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
City and state officials have clashed in the past over the creation of government boards that have exercised some control over how Jackson spends his tax revenue and money raised from government bonds.
Michael Goldberg serves on the Corps for the The Singapore Time/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/mikergoldberg.