U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., takes his ballot from election managers Gail Davis, left, and Joyce Moore to vote at his home precinct in Bolton, Miss., in Mississippi's Second Congressional Democratic Primary, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson said the state bears some blame for neglecting Jackson for decades, but if the capital city cannot properly run its water system, “I would not be in favor of the city being given back the authority to run it.”

“Because it doesn’t make sense,” Thompson said in an exclusive interview on Friday with Mississippi Today for its “The Other Side” podcast about the continuing water crisis in Jackson. “Those negotiations (about long-term solutions) have to be fair. They have to include the owners of the system. But we want a system that meets federal and state regulations. Now if we see that Jackson can’t do it, then obviously we have to look at an alternative.”

Thompson, whose federal district covers most of Jackson, said, “I expect to be intricately involved in the negotiations.”

State leaders have been meeting privately this week to discuss long-term solutions for the capital city’s collapsing system as state and federal emergency crews distribute water to thousands of residents and make emergency repairs.

Proposals they have come up with include:

  • Creating a “regional water authority” to run the system, which also serves Byram and parts of Hinds County for water and parts of Rankin and Madison counties and other areas for sewerage.
  • Putting the city water system in a temporary conservatorship run by the state Public Service Commission, with the goal of passing the system back to city leaders after service has been restored.
  • Creating some new state entity or commission to take full, permanent control of the city’s water system.
  • Privatizing Jackson’s water system, leasing it to a private company that would manage it moving forward.

READ MORE: State leaders meet privately to discuss long-term solutions for Jackson water crisis

Thompson said he’s not going to opine on specific proposals at this point. He noted, “You can own the system and not operate it.”

But Thompson repeatedly said the city must be treated fairly in any negotiations on solutions.

“Years of neglect have contributed to what we have in Jackson,” Thompson said. “… Jackson has been treated differently than other communities. So there has to be give and take on both sides. I encourage that. But I resist with every fiber in my body for Jackson to be singled out just because it’s Jackson and being treated differently than all other communities and all water systems.”

Thompson said he has been talking with the mayor and other city leaders and repeated, “I have not seen a plan,” about a long-term fix for the water system.

“I’ve heard from the mayor and others that they have a plan, they’re working on it, but I have not physically seen a plan with my own eyes,” Thompson said. “I look forward to it. If it’s one that is verifiable, I’ll be happy to promote it. But, you know, I said a couple of weeks ago I was looking for a plan. And I say right now, I continue to look for a plan. And that speaks to management that I talked about earlier. It would be difficult to get the kind of resources needed to fix the Jackson water system without a verifiable plan.

“As soon as it’s completed, I would encourage that plan to be as widely distributed as possible because that would instill confidence in the public that something is actually being done,” Thompson said.

To hear Mississippi Today editor-in-chief Adam Ganucheau’s full interview with Thompson, listen to “The Other Side” podcast, which will air starting Monday. Thompson discussed more about the ongoing conversations he’s had with city and state leaders, and he talked about his work as chair of the House Jan. 6 Committee and the ongoing welfare scandal investigation.

READ MORE: Answers to commonly asked questions about the Jackson water crisis

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.