Challenges to a pending consulting contract between the City of St. Louis and a French multinational water service company called Veolia are still coming from all sides.
Activists from the "Dump Veolia" coalition will descend on City Hall this afternoon for another show of opposition; at the same time, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who is running for mayor of the city, is exploring ways to snuff out the deal altogether.
Earlier this week, Reed's chief of staff Tom Shepard sent an email to the members of the search committee that originally selected Veolia, asking them to reconvene and award the contract to one of the three competing firms that lost in the bidding process back in November.
"I would like to get back to discussing our water department and its needs, and spend less time discussing Veolia Water," Shepard wrote.
See also: -Hosed: A plan to overhaul the St. Louis Water Division leaves the Slay administration all wet -French Firm, Veolia, Wins Consulting Contract with St. Louis Water Division -Veolia Water Contract May Face Public Hearing [UPDATE]
As we covered in our Feb. 7 feature story, Hosed, Veolia has been interested in a partnership with the St. Louis Water Division since 2010. They are the largest water service company in the world and specialize in running the operations of municipal water departments for profit. The current deal under consideration is a $250,000 consulting contract to help the division save money. If the city accepts Veolia's "Phase 1" recommendations, the "implementation" phase would last five years and could potentially be worth millions for Veolia.
Since news of the pending deal broke, however, there's been significant public outcry to the deal. Water division workers are convinced that Veolia will cut jobs and water quality to save money. Environmentalists don't trust their track record in other cities. And social justice activists object to the company's dealings abroad, specifically the services Veolia runs in the West Bank for Jewish settlers. Altogether, they've formed Dump Veolia, a group that arguably stopped the deal in its tracks by mounting a call-in campaign to city offices. They've demanded public input on the deal.
Add to all that the fact that the contract has become an issue in the mayoral race -- Mayor Francis Slay has been very supportive of the contract, President Reed has been vocally opposed. For approval, the contract needs two of three votes from the Board of Estimate and Apportionment made up of Slay, Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green. This is where the deal is stalled. Eddie Roth, Slay's chief of operations, has been tapped to meet with all the opposition groups, but is not working on any concrete deadline. At one point it was suggested at an E&A meeting that the Board of Aldermen should hold a public forum of some kind on Veolia, but they are on break until April.
In an effort to bypass all of this, Tom Shepard sent this email out on Friday:
Any decision made after Board of Aldermen hearings may not happen until a June of July Board of Estimate & Apportionment meeting. That would be five months from now, and a year after the first meetings we had regarding selecting a company for consulting services.
I say all of that to ask that we consider reconvening the selection committee, and review the proposals again,and see if the committee so chooses to move forward with a company that will not involve us holding public hearings to determine whether or not we want to contract with them.
It seems this entire thing has become more about Veolia, than it is about our water department. I thought that was the initial reason for us forming a selection committee, was concerns with the future of our water department and its infrastructure, so on and so forth. It seems like that entire concern has been put on the back burner, and I would like for us to consider moving forward with addressing concerns at the water department. As an employee of the city and the taxpayers, I would like to get back to discussing our water department and its needs, and spend less time discussing Veolia Water.
Continue for response from the selection committee. The original selection committee was made up of the Water Division Commissioner Curt Skouby, its chief financial officer Jim Kummer, then-chief of operations Sam Dotson as a representative for Slay, Shepard as a representative of Reed, and deputy comptroller John Zakibe representing Green's office. Kummer was the only "no" vote, Shepard abstained.
Not surprisingly, Kummer has been the only one to respond positively to Shepard's idea. From his reply to Shepard:
I believe that reconvening the Selection Committee to examine/discuss whether another firm already interviewed can fulfill the needs of the City and Water Division as put forth in the RFP is a reasonable option.
I agree that the focus has unfortunately moved from the needs of the Water Division to some very contentious issues involving the suitability of Veolia to provide those services to the City.
I am willing to continue to serve on the Selection Committee should it be reconvened.
Meanwhile, Dump Veolia is planning an appearance at today's E&A meeting, though the contract is not on the agenda.