JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Jackson’s struggling water system could get a new set of owners under legislation put forward Tuesday by Republican lawmakers in Mississippi.

The bill would transfer ownership to a new public entity overseen by a nine-member council, the majority of whom would be appointed by heads of state. Republicans control both houses of the Mississippi Legislative Assembly, as well as the governor’s mansion. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, said he wants the city to keep control of its water.

Legislation sent by the committee to the entire Mississippi Senate is the state’s latest response to a water crisis that has caused repeated outages in which many residents of the city of about 150,000 went days and weeks without water for drinking, cooking, bathing or flushing the toilet. The problems have also weighed on corporate finances.

“I’ve been in economic development meetings this year with people who have told me maybe they don’t want to come to Mississippi because we don’t have water here,” the senator said. David Parker, an Olive Branch Republican. “So whether we like it or not, we have an issue that we need to act on here.”

The bill, introduced by Parker, would transfer water, wastewater and stormwater services provided by Jackson to the “ownership, management and control” of a new utility district after a director appointed by the US Department of Justice to oversee the water system has completed its work.

The Justice Department named Ted Henifin, a former Virginia public works director, as acting director after winning approval from a federal judge to perform a rare procedure. 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 established once a majority of a nine-member board is appointed. He would assume ownership of the water system when a federal court terminates Henifin’s position.

Four nominations would be reserved for the mayor of Jackson, but he would be required to “consult” with the mayors of nearby Byram and Ridgeland on two of those nominations. The governor would make three board appointments and the lieutenant governor would make two. All nine nominations are expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled state 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 was unavailable 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 its tax revenue and money raised from public bonds.


Michael Goldberg is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

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