By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan accepted a campaign contribution in February from a company seeking a city contract, a decision he will likely vote on in less than a month, and has no plans to give the money back.
Bryan listed Waste Management of Houston, Texas, as a $250 campaign contributor in his campaign finance report on Tuesday. He is the only candidate in Tupelo city elections who named a company that does business with the city as a financial supporter.
Waste Management has the current contract with the city of Tupelo for trash and recycling pickup. The company charges the city of Tupelo monthly collection fees based on pickups at about 13,300 residential homes citywide.
With the contract expiring on July 31, the City Council will likely vote on a new contract within a month, said Darrell Smith, chief operating officer for the city of Tupelo.
Waste Management is among three companies vying for the new contract.
“The council will look at all of them and decide who they want to go with,” Smith said.
When contacted by the Daily Journal on Wednesday, Bryan first said he would likely return the contribution but later changed his mind and issued a statement.
“I followed the legal requirements for campaign contribution disclosure with the Mississippi Secretary of State, and broke no laws,” Bryan said in his statement. “My voting record is proof that past contributions have not swayed my vote and they will not in the future.”
Most other council members said they wouldn’t accept contributions from companies that do business with the city. City Council President Fred Pitts, also a candidate for mayor, said he has turned down contributions from companies that have direct financial relationships with the city.
“It was a personal decision that I made,” he said.
Ward 1 councilman Markel Whittington said he was never approached by Waste Management to receive a contribution but likely wouldn’t have taken it considering the upcoming contract vote.
“I don’t think that would be terribly ethical to the taxpayers,” Whittington said.
Councilmen Jim Newell of Ward 3 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 also said they likely wouldn’t have accepted money from a contributor with direct financial ties to the city.
Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said the imminent contract vote makes the decision to not accept the money clear.
“I don’t think technically it’s against the law but the optics are horrible,” Wiseman said. “If they’re about to vote on the contract, the ethics of this is plain as day. The appearance can’t be explained away.”
Bryan’s opponents in his four-man Republican primary race on Tuesday appear ready to use the contribution against him.
“It’s totally unethical for any candidate, elected official or city employee to take any money or gift that’s doing business with the city,” said Tom Hewitt, a candidate in the Ward 6 council race.
While only Bryan accepted the financial contribution from Waste Management, at least two other incumbent City Council members said they would have accepted the company’s money.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis admitted to receiving money from them in the past and said during the current election cycle she has received money from other businesses that receive payments from the city.
Davis said she didn’t consider taking the contributions from companies that do business with the city improper. She said she didn’t believe the money she has accepted from the companies was meant to influence her vote.
“A lot of them just wish you good luck,” she said.
Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis also said he would have also accepted Waste Management’s financial support but wasn’t offered any.
“I’d have been glad to take money if they’d offered it,” he said. “They didn’t offer me one dollar.”