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Senate passes bill removing Jackson’s future control of its water system

The state Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 2628 Tuesday afternoon, moving forward an effort to remove the city of Jackson’s long-term control of its water and sewer systems.

Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, the bill’s author, presented a tweaked version of the legislation that passed out of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee last month. If enacted, the legislation would force Jackson into selling its water and sewer infrastructure to a new utility authority, which would operate as a corporate nonprofit. The new authority would be governed by a nine-person board, which would select a president to run day-to-day operations.

The new authority would assume control of the Jackson utilities once the current federally appointed manager of the water and sewer systems, Ted Henifin, leaves his post. U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate, who is overseeing manager’s role, assigned Henifin to stay until at least 2027. The court order empowering Henifin, though, requires him to stay until Wingate determines that Jackson’s water system is in a stable enough condition.

In the updated proposal Parker offered Tuesday, the bill gives Jackson officials three board appointees. The original version gave left all appointees for the governor and lieutenant governor to choose. The updated bill, though, still leaves elected city officials with a minority of appointees, and gives Jackson one less appointee than in the version of this bill Parker presented last legislative session.

Specifically, the appointees would work as follows:

  • The mayor of Jackson would have one, who would be a member of the clergy leading a place of worship in the city.
  • The Jackson City Council would have two: an employee of a local nonprofit in the city, and an owner of a restaurant in the city.
  • The governor would have three: an employee of a large nonhealthcare business in the city; a small business owner whose main location is in the city; and an at-large appointee who lives or works in the city.
  • And the lieutenant governor would have the remaining three: an employee of a large health care facility in the city; an employee of a post-secondary institution in the city; and an at-large appointee who lives or works in the city.

Parker said he made the adjustment after hearing feedback from Jackson delegates as well as Henifin.

The bill also now requires the board to hold monthly meetings. Those meetings would be subject to the Open Meetings Act, and all records of the authority would be considered public records.

During Tuesday’s floor discussion, Sen. Hillman Terome Frazier and Sen. Sollie Norwood, both of whom represent Jackson, questioned Parker for not meeting with them individually before presenting the bill. Parker responded that neither came to his office to meet, and that he left notes about the legislation on their desks.

After the bill passed out of its committee last month, Jackson lawmakers criticized Parker, as well as Henifin who, shortly after, endorsed the proposal. The Jackson City Council also passed a resolution in opposition to the effort.

SB 2628 passed the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 35-14, and the bill will now head to the House. To stay alive, the proposal will have to pass out of a House committee by the April 2 deadline.

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