By Associated Press - Monday, April 19, 2021

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The city of Jackson, Mississippi, has denied a TV station’s public records request for email about problems with the city water treatment system.

WLBT-TV recently requested all city email related to the Environmental Protection Agency telling Jackson in March 2020 to bring its water treatment system into compliance with federal law.

City officials kept the emergency administrative order secret until news organizations recently reported about it.

WLBT reported that it requested city email related to the order. In a one-page response, the Public Works Department said email is “protected by attorney-client privilege, the attorney work doctrine or as settlement negotiations in an ongoing enforcement action.”

The response was dated April 13, but was not released until April 16, days after Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba spoke at a City Council meeting and defended his decision to not make the order public.

“The reason we haven’t sent (it) out is because the draft hasn’t been finalized by any party. When there is a completed document that both the EPA and the city of Jackson agree to, it will be issued,” Lumumba said.

Correspondence associated with the order appears to contradict the mayor’s statement that the order was still in the negotiation stage, with the EPA calling it a “final agency action.”

City Council member Ashby Foote said Jackson is in talks with the EPA about the water system but on an issue separate from the 2020 order. He said those negotiations should not prohibit Jackson from releasing the documents requested.

Foote said Jackson is in compliance with the 2020 mandates, but “the unwillingness of the city to share with citizens information related to safe drinking water is very troubling.”

The EPA examined Jackson’s water treatment plants in February 2020 at the behest of the Mississippi State Department of Health. The federal agency found conditions at the plants “present(ed) an imminent and substantial endangerment to the persons served by the system.”

Jackson had problems with its water distribution system because of winter storms this year, leaving thousands of customers without water for weeks and the entire city under a boil-water notice for a month.

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