Editorial: The Veolia water contract is no ordinary City Hall kerfuffle
At first glance, the controversy over a $250,000 consulting contract for Veolia Water North America to review procedures at the St. Louis city water division looks like a typical City Hall kerfuffle.
Oh, but it is so much more.
A lot of heavyweights are involved, at least tangentially. They include Anheuser-Busch InBev, which doesn’t want its water costs going up too fast; the libertarian Show-Me Institute founded by conservative über-donor Rex Sinquefield; John Temporiti, a lawyer and Democratic political operative who nonetheless has worked on Mr. Sinquefield’s causes, too; the Carpenters Union, which represents some water division employees; and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
Also involved — and this is where it gets really weird — are both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The immediate issue is whether city Comptroller Darlene Green should sign the contract with Veolia, as Mayor Francis Slay has asked. City Counselor Patricia Hageman has opined that Ms. Green has a “ministerial duty” to sign the contract, inasmuch as money for the contract already has been included in the city budget.
The budget, including $1.3 million for “professional services” for the water department, was approved last spring. Under the city’s normal convoluted procedures, the city’s three-member Board of Estimate and Apportionment — made up of the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen — must approve city expenditures. But since money for Veolia was included in the budget, and the budget was approved last spring, Ms. Green may not have the authority to withhold her signature.
Does all of this sound complicated? We’re just getting started.
Apparently the E&A board was supposed to receive notice from the water division that it planned to spend $250,000 on Veolia. The aldermen had been apprised of this fact, but the formal notice never got to E&A. Why? The water division sent it to Eddie Roth, the mayor’s operations director, instead. Mr. Roth, unaware that the document was solely in his email in-box, didn’t pass it on. (Mr. Roth, by the way, was a member of the Editorial Page staff before going to work for Mr. Slay in 2011).
The Veolia contract has become a big deal for several reasons:
Water division employees are worried that the contract will get Veolia a beachhead. Part of Veolia’s business is operating public water systems. While the contract specifies only that it will make recommendations on saving money, division employees worry that jobs could be lost. While the city charter appears to prohibit the sale or lease of “the waterworks” to a private entity, it says nothing about hiring a private firm to operate it.
The issue popped up during Mr. Slay’s re-election campaign this spring. His primary opponent, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, enjoyed the support of some anti-Veolia interests. Mr. Reed lost the election but remains on the Board of E&A; his supporters aren’t interested in doing Mr. Slay any favors.
Mr. Sinquefield’s Show-Me Institute in 2010 suggested privatizing the water division, arguing that it “is worth hundreds of millions of dollars” and could generate “an enormous amount of money” for the city.
Mr. Sinquefield is a major political donor to Mr. Slay and to St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley. Mr. Temporiti, who has done work for Mr. Sinquefield’s lobbying company before, also has been hired by Veolia to press its interests.
The water division is a stand-alone “enterprise fund” that operates on its own revenues without tax support. It is facing a need for major capital expenditures in coming years. It has fewer customers than in years past and is selling less water, even though it has added some communities in St. Charles and St. Louis counties to its customer base. It operates two major intake and processing plants and doesn’t need all of its capacity, but can’t get by on just one plant.
That portends a need either to streamline its operations or to raise water rates for the second time since 2010. Major water-users, including Anheuser-Busch, are not thrilled with that idea.
As if any complications were necessary, Veolia Water North America, headquartered in Chicago, is a division of a French conglomerate that has operations in dozens of countries, not only in water supplies, but in wastewater management, solid-waste management, energy supply and public transportation.
End of excerpt
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If you live in an American city chances are your water supply may now be in the hands of a private company like Veolia. It is known fact that such arrangements lead to big profits for the companies involved but usually lead to decrease in quality of service and water quality while leading to increase in rates. Privatization of the water system was a big part of what made Detroit go bankrupt. Veolia also isn't the only company doing it either. My town's water was recently sold to United Water with the same results- Decrease in water quality with increase in rates yearly with someone pocketing a lot of money. This is happening right under our noses to OUR PUBLIC TRUST.
Veolia Stock Falls For Fourth Day
Hopefully a continuing trend. This is where companies like this need to be hit hard.
Tell Veolia: Stop Undermining Our Right To Control Our Water
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This is a must read report.
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