June 20, 2018 10:52:11 AM
A split vote Tuesday placed a city contractor back on the Columbus Light and Water board of directors.
City councilmen voted 5-1 to appoint Jabari Edwards to a five-year term. He will replace Tiffany Sturdivant Turner, who decided not to seek reappointment. His term will begin July 1.
Edwards served on the CLW board from 2004-12, including a stint as chairperson. He also owns J5 Global, the company with which the city contracts as its project manager -- including for street work and general contracting for building construction.
Another of his companies, BH Properties, focuses on affordable housing projects, which he has undertaken locally and in other areas of the state and Southeast region. He has completed such a project in Northaven Woods and is planning a mixed-use neighborhood development in the Sandfield area of south Columbus.
"I had sworn off doing anything (public service related) locally. ... I do stuff statewide and nationally," Edwards told The Dispatch after his appointment. "It's tough doing stuff in your own community due to cynicism. But now I am offering myself up to my community and my city."
Councilmen appointed Edwards over two other applicants -- Jerome Edwards and Donald Poe.
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box opposed Jabari Edwards' appointment, citing what he believes to be conflicts of interest with the potential for CLW to interact with J5 and BH Properties.
The city sought an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General's Office earlier this year, before Edwards had even applied for the post. That opinion determined there was no conflict, according to City Attorney Jeff Turnage.
Still, Box maintains his reservations.
"(Jabari's) a good man. I like him," Box said Tuesday. "He does a tremendous amount of work with the city and that was my problem. He gets way too much money already from the city, and I felt like he shouldn't be there (on the CLW board)."
Edwards said he respects Box's opinion but asserted there were no ties between his businesses and CLW. He said, specifically referring to BH Properties, that CLW would not be in a position to offer any incentives to his developments, including Sandfield.
CLW General Manager Todd Gale also told The Dispatch he didn't see where there would be a conflict.
"We really don't do any work with J5 as far as light and water goes," Gale said, adding that even if CLW did work with Edwards' companies, he believes Edwards would not use his position on the board for any gain. "He knows the rules. He's happy with that. He understands that."
The utility pays each member $300 per month and covers 100 percent of his or her health insurance premium through Blue Cross Mississippi. Members can also bank state retirement through CLW.
After leaving the CLW board in 2012, Edwards managed Mayor Robert Smith's re-election campaign the next year. Shortly after Smith's re-election, the council hired Edwards' J5 firm as the city's project manager.
Other CLW board members include Chair Michael Tate, Brandy Gardner, Charlie Newell and Jimmy Graham.
Turner stepping down
Turner, who has served on CLW's board since 2015, is finishing the unexpired term of former member Andrew Colom.
She told The Dispatch she is leaving the board, in part, over concerns its members are keeping the utility "stagnant" and are not as interested in listening to customers as she would like them to be.
"I was the newest and youngest on the board ... and I tried to bring (the problems) out and I kind of was shut down," Turner said Tuesday. "Nobody wanted to do the work unless you can convince them there was a problem. ... I spent a good bit of time doing that.
"Initially, I got on this board to see why we had so many complaints on customer service. I did my fair share on that," she added.
"They (the customers) feel like there is no voice. I wasn't just a board member that vetoes bills. I've been to several people's houses to hear complaints. ... I really wanted to make a great rapport between our customers and our utility. I feel like it is very poor."
Turner spoke highly of Edwards and his ability to be a catalyst for change on the board.
"If I go to him, he will find the answer for me," Turner said. "I believe he would bring that leadership back. He has the same outlook and objective when it comes to customer service as I do. He has the power of influence and can bring out details I wasn't able to,"
Turner, when she was first appointed, was dating then-Ward 4 Councilman Marty Turner, who was defeated in his re-election bid in 2017. She has since married the former councilman.
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