Veolia Water Contract Sent Back to Committee Over Concerns About Company's Reputation
At the meeting itself, seven members of STL-PSC arrived at the mayor's office wearing handwritten "Investigate Veolia" stickers. Seating quickly ran out at what is usually an extremely brief meeting that includes no time for public comment.
The Veolia contract up for vote was for $250,000 for a preliminary four-month consulting phase. A second phase contract will be awarded if the city chooses to implement Veolia's cost-saving recommendations -- that phase could go as long as five years and Veolia projected it could save the city between $8.2 and $15.1 million.
President Reed was first to raise objections to approving the contract. Mayor Slay countered that the deal had already been approved by a selection committee made up of now-Chief of Police Sam Dotson, Reed's Chief of Staff Tom Shephard, Water Division Commissioner Curt Skouby, John Zakibe from the Comptroller's office, and Jim Kummer, a representative of the water division (vote for approval had gone 3 yays, 1 nay, 1 abstain).
"I don't think we should be taking this up today," said Reed, "in light of new information we've received about the company."
Slay said he was comfortable with Veolia since it has been operating the city's steam loop for the past six-and-a-half years, and that concerns being raised from outside groups have "nothing to do with the City of St. Louis." He also reiterated that Veolia is not in St. Louis to privatize the utility, a fear that was raised when company executives toured the utility two years ago.
"We're not selling our water department to anybody. They are not managing it. They are not operating our water department in any respect," he said. "They're giving us advice so we can save money...This limited contract at $250,000 would be well worth it."
"This was added to the agenda yesterday," said Reed. "The timing isn't right for me personally."
Reed and Slay butting heads is certainly nothing knew, especially in light of their upcoming battle for the mayorship. But when Green piped up, she sided with Reed, saying she was concerned by the fact that there was dissension on the selection committee.
"To me that really says let's investigate Veolia before we go further today," she said. "A lot of the public is sitting here...These are property-owning, tax-paying people that actively contribute...So I want to do it the right way. I don't want to rush anything."
She recommended that the contract be sent back to the committee to learn more about the allegations against Veolia.
"You want to do an investigation? Let's do an investigation," Slay conceded. "We're not going to take this up, I guess."
After the meeting, Reed confirmed that his office had also been hearing from "tons" of water division workers upset about the contract.