This is my sixth column on the Jackson water crisis. I think it will be my last for a while. I feel like I have adequately covered the subject.
When I first started writing this series, Jackson was two weeks into the boil water alert. I called it “one of the most colossal municipal government failures in the history of our country.” Apparently, others agreed and the story took on national significance.
Typical of national stories, the left and right quickly used the crisis to promote their ideological bent.
Tucker Carlson showed a video of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba promising to make Jackson the most radical city in America. Carlson praised Lumumba for being one of the few mayors to keep his campaign pledge, noting that a city without water is indeed a radical.
The left commentators blamed right-wing white Republicans of starving a black city of the money needed for infrastructure. They also blamed white flight for destroying Jackson’s tax base.
In fact, Jackson’s tax base has been growing steadily, increasing from $180 million in 2002 to $250 million today.
I tried to follow up on Congressman Bennie Thompson’s claim that the state and feds give more money to Madison and Rankin, but his staff never responded with any documentation.
Given that most state and federal funds come in the form of welfare support of some kind, I suspect that Hinds actually gets far more tax dollars than the more affluent counties of Rankin and Madison.
I contacted a variety of state and federal leaders to help me answer this question, but apparently county breakdowns on federal and state funds receipts do not exist.
After the dust settled, the cause of the crisis was clear as spring-fed water: Gross mismanagement and neglect driven by inexperience combined with incompetence.
At 34, Chokwe Antar Lumumba was elected the youngest mayor in Jackson history riding on the coattails of his father. Jackson voters were deluded by glib talk about radicalism and “free the land.” What they got was water too contaminated to even bathe in.
Mayor Chokwe could have prevented this crisis if he was competent and driven to properly manage a challenged city with neglected infrastructure. Unfortunately this was way outside his wheelhouse. He was more interested in gallivanting around the country spouting high falutin concepts on new age radicalism.
Lumumba did make one good hire, public works director Robert Miller, who kept the city running until resigning because Lumumba covered up the 2020 EPA investigation revealing the magnitude of Jackson’s water problems. Ethics matter.
Governor Reeves, MEMA and the Department of Health finally intervened and got the water plant running again. It didn’t even take much money. The main problem was a lack of skilled personnel.
Attached to this column is an editorial I wrote in 2003, almost 20 years ago, chronicling the start of this mess. (Thank you Bill Jordan, who is in my Sunday school class, for bringing this to my attention.)
It is more proof that Jackson should not manage the water. The city couldn’t do it 20 years ago. It can’t do it now.
It’s time to create an independent utility district to manage the water for Jackson residents. If state leaders fail to get this done, they will have to shoulder some of the blame next go round.