Natchez – Open Meetings Act
In May 2018, the Mississippi Justice Institute filed a complaint challenging Natchez’s actions while it was debating how to award the city’s garbage collection contract.
The controversy started in April 2018 when Natchez city leaders refused to make public the proposals of garbage collection vendors who were competing for the city garbage collection contract. When local reporters from The Natchez Democrat and citizens asked to attend a board of aldermen meeting where the contract negotiations would be discussed, city leaders barred their entry.
Natchez leaders claimed they had a right to discuss contract negotiations in executive session, in private, because state law allows for private discussions about the “expansion of a business.” But that law is plainly about protecting privacy during economic development project talks, not about shielding contract negotiations from the public.
The Natchez Democrat has reported that city leaders, after their closed-door meetings, chose a new vendor to receive the garbage collection contract. The result was a 25% increase in garbage collection prices for Natchez residents.
MJI is not the only party to challenge Natchez. Local attorney Paul Sullivan and The Natchez Democrat have filed similar complaints. The complaints have far-reaching consequences. Local governments negotiate contracts all the time, and making sure those negotiations are public helps save taxpayers’ money and prevents backroom dealing.
The complaint is currently before the Mississippi Ethics Commission.