Jackson Public Works Director Bob Miller would like to overhaul the city’s state of emergency guidelines, in hopes of responding more quickly to major infrastructure problems.
Recently, the city declared a state of emergency to repair a sewer main burst along Meadow Hill Drive.
Miller said he hoped to have crews on the scene last week to repair the line, which was pouring untreated sewage into a tributary of Eubanks Creek.
While the project was moving forward, Miller was frustrated that he couldn’t have crews on the scene any quicker.
He hopes to rework the city’s state of emergency rules to allow the city to have a contractor hired and working in a matter of hours, rather than in days or weeks.
“If I declare a state of emergency on Friday, I want a crew out there Saturday morning,” he said. “If we have a sewer emergency, I can’t have my crews out there, I want contractor crews out there the next morning.”
Under current rules, the public works director can declare a state of emergency, but the declaration is not official until it’s reviewed by engineers, the city’s legal department and then signed off on by the mayor.
From there, the city must obtain bids from two to three contractors before making a hire.
The process “can take two weeks,” Miller said.
The Meadow Hill process took about that amount of time. Public works told the city council at its November 7 meeting that it had asked for a state of emergency on the project. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba signed off on the state of emergency that Friday, and a contractor was expected to be begin work this week.
To shorten the process, Miller would like to have the autonomy to declare states of emergency without the declaration having to be reviewed.
Further, he would like to award contracts at the beginning of the year for three or four contractors, who would be on stand-by to handle emergencies as they pop up.
Miller said the contractors would provide a unit price, and he would go with the lowest cost provider if available.
“If they couldn’t have a crew out there, I’d ask the next (firm),” he said. “I will not be abusing this duty.”
Miller said contractors would only be used when city crews are unavailable, when the emergencies are so large additional staffing is needed, or when specialty equipment is needed for a problem to be solved.
Miller didn’t know if the changes would have to be approved by the council, but said the process would be similar to those in other cities where he’s worked.
The city would continue to follow the definition for emergencies set out in Mississippi’s procurement rules, he said.
According to state law, emergency conditions are defined as circumstances where a delay caused by obtaining competitive bids “could cause adverse impact upon the governing authorities or agency, its employees or its citizens.”
As for Miller, he believes the Meadow Hill line break meets that criteria. “(Sewage) going into a creek is an emergency, and I’m going to respond,” he said.