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Natchez board negotiating contract with new garbage collector
from Staff Reports - NEWS
May 4, 2018 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. -- Questions continue to linger over the legality of Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell and city aldermen closing the public out of discussions about choosing a garbage-collection contractor.

After shutting the public out of Thursday’s meeting, the board voted to begin negotiations with one company – Arrow Disposal Services – for twice-a-week garbage pickup services and weekly collection of recyclables. If a contract is finalized, Arrow would replace Waste Pro, the city’s current garbage collector.

Arrow currently serves 14 cities and counties, including Southaven, Indianola and Lauderdale County in Mississippi.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen this week have held closed-door sessions to review details of the proposals from five companies competing for the contract to pick up Natchez residents' garbage.
City attorney Bob Latham has said discussions by Grennell and the six aldermen should be kept out of the public eye to ensure they can hammer out the best deal with one of the competing garbage companies. He said the behind-the-scene discussions involve companies' "confidential" or "proprietary" matters.

State law requires government boards to open their meetings to the public, but they can privately meet for one of 14 reasons specified in law. In explaining why the board's Monday session was exempt from the state open meetings law, Latham cited the statute's 12th reason: "discussions regarding material or data exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983” if they involve the state Public Employees Retirement System’s investment policies. 

However, when pressed, Latham conceded the mayor and aldermen’s meeting was not about the investment of retirement funds. He then opted to cite another reason city officials were closing their meeting: discussions or negotiations about “the location, relocation or expansion of a business…or an industry.”
The selection of a city garbage collector does involve the location of a business, but Mississippi Press Association attorney Leonard Van Slyke said  the“open meetings exemption cited (by Latham) is a stretch” of the law allowing boards to close the public out.
For Thursday’s closed-door meeting, Latham cited another reason allowed in law to keep the public out: “strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to prospective litigation, litigation (or court orders) when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the public body.” Latham pointed to complaints filed with the Mississippi Ethics Commission challenging the legality of the Natchez Board of Aldermen’s cloistered meetings about the selection of a garbage contractor.

The Ethics Commission is responsible for reviewing complaints about government boards closing their meetings. The commission decides if the open meetings law has been violated.

Alderman Sarah Carter Smith voted against closing the public out of Thursday's meeting. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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