Governor ends Jackson water emergency; says city’s ‘crisis of incompetence’ continues

FILE(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 6:03 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - According to Gov. Tate Reeves, Jackson’s water crisis is over, but a crisis of poor leadership still remains for the capital city.

Tuesday, Reeves issued an executive order officially ending the August 30, 2022, state of emergency surrounding the city of Jackson’s water treatment system.

Two orders still remain in effect, a federal emergency declaration, which will be in place until November 28, and a MSDH declaration issued by the State Health Officer, which is slated to end on December 28.

“I’m incredibly thankful to the folks at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi State Department of Health and the Mississippi National Guard who worked tirelessly to restore clean water to the residents of Jackson,” he said in a statement. “They have made countless repairs, brought in new equipment and done heroic work.”

While thanking state agencies for their efforts, the governor took a parting shot at the mayor and his administration, saying that Jackson still suffers from a “crisis of incompetence.”

“The only remaining imminent challenge is the city’s refusal to hire routine maintenance staff, and that cannot constitute a state of emergency,” he said. “We need new leadership at the helm so that this crisis of incompetence cannot continue.”

Reeves is calling on the federal government to continue the process to ensure “Jackson political leadership does not have the authority to mismanage the water system any further.”

The governor was speaking to the recent interim stipulated order approved by the Jackson City Council. As part of the order, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice are mandating that a third-party come in and take control of the water system.

The order will not be made public until it is filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, so details of that third-party’s role are still relatively unknown. “That process needs to be completed, and it needs to be completed quickly,” Reeves wrote.

Reeves issued an emergency declaration on August 30, taking over operations of the city’s water system after equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant left people in Jackson and the surrounding areas without running water.

The governor decided to end the order on November 22, after Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Jackson would not participate in the state’s efforts to bring on a vendor to operate and maintain the city’s water system.

MEMA issued a request for qualifications in October seeking a one-year management contract. In response, the city issued its own request for proposals, saying it would not participate in the state’s.

Lumumba said the city was not allowed to participate in drawing up the proposal, something Reeves refuted. As of Tuesday afternoon, neither MEMA nor the city of Jackson have filled the position. The city of Jackson recently entered into an emergency contract with a California firm to provide additional staffing at the city’s treatment plants until a contractor could be hired.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the mayor asked the governor several times to extend the emergency order until an operations and maintenance contractor could be put in place.

Reeves, though, refused, and said in his November 22 order that state statute mandated him to terminate the order as soon as conditions warrant.

“As the justification for an emergency under state statute no longer exists, and in order for that momentum to continue, we need to stick with our deadline to end our state of emergency and our operating of the city’s water system for them,” he wrote. “I am hopeful the federal government’s efforts to take control away from incompetent hands will wrap up swiftly.”

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