"The reason I believe is that Veolia had not gone away," says the same division manager.

Roughly a year later, Ratzki says he got a call from the city.

"They reminded us, not that we didn't know ourselves, that we were not awarded that contract," he recalls. "They asked would we be willing to write the proposal for a different contract."

Mayor Slay and his challenger, Lewis Reed (far right), discussed Veolia during a January mayoral debate.
Theo R. Welling
Mayor Slay and his challenger, Lewis Reed (far right), discussed Veolia during a January mayoral debate.

On Valentine's Day of last year, Black & Veatch inked a new deal with the city to draft a second public notice asking an outside consultant to assess the financial state of the utility. Black & Veatch carried out its significantly slimmed-down list of responsibilities for the very same price tag — $245,100.

The new request, titled "Operational Efficiency and Value Creation Analysis," asked for a two-phase plan aimed at "reducing overall cost of water treatment," "increase wholesale water sales" and "maintain or improve water main repair time and efficiency." The second phase would involve crafting an implementation plan.

According to Eddie Roth, the mayor's director of operations, the second request for proposals "broadened the scope of the advice sought."

"The first-round RFP was focused on retaining a consulting engineer, and the subject matter had more to do with the design of our facilities," he says. "After all that came in, the water division made a reassessment that we have to look beyond design. We need broader experience in the operation of a utility."

Sources in the water division disagree.

"[The first RFP] was going to be far reaching.... They were going to look at a different governing authority, maybe a board should run us, because there are so many barriers to efficiency," says a source in the division. "We thought, 'Something's fishy here,' but we went through the process again."

The RFP went out on July 17, 2012. Four firms answered: Johnson Controls, Missouri American Water, Siemens and Veolia North America. This time the water division, not the Board of Public Service, handled the search. The team included Skouby and Kummer from the water division; Tom Shepard from Lewis Reed's office; John Zakibe from the comptroller's office; and Sam Dotson, the city's new police chief who at the time served as director of operations for the mayor's office.

Veolia's bid suggested a two-phased operation. In the second, implementation phase, it would be paid a percentage of the overall savings it was able to uncover. It estimated it could come up with $8 to $15 million over the course of five years. It also promised that layoffs would play no part in its cost-saving efforts.

As the second search committee got under way, sources within the water division allege that Skouby became increasingly nervous and unwilling to discuss his opinions on the bidding companies with his coworkers. (The mayor's office did not make Skouby available for an interview for this story. Not only is Skouby the acting water commissioner, he also carries the title of Mayor Slay's director of public utilities. Campaign finance records show he donated $900 to the mayor's reelection efforts this past fall.)

"After the first introduction to Veolia, Skouby made no attempt to hide from the management of the water division that he was not supportive of Veolia," says an upper-level manager at the plant. "All that changed when he made his recommendation."

It certainly didn't help the air of conspiracy that immediately after Veolia's presentation to the search committee at city hall, John Temporiti took a private meeting with Mayor Slay. Through Veolia spokesperson Matt Demo, Temporiti claims that the Veolia contract was not the topic of conversation during the closed-door session.

In the final vote, Skouby nominated Veolia, Dotson made a motion to pass it, and Zakibe seconded. Kummer voted no. Shepard abstained, saying he didn't know enough about the company.

Workers at the utility mutinied at the news. Skouby responded with memos assuring employees that there would be absolutely no layoffs if Veolia came in. But the damage was done.

Days after the approval "Ted" reached out to Riverfront Times.

"They're trying to keep this all under the radar," he said at the time. "This Veolia company is just bad news."

After Riverfront Times broke news of the pending deal with Veolia in December, something unexpected happened. A small but steadily growing coalition of social-justice and environmental activists have given the deal — once destined for the rubber stamp — a violent shove off of the table and into campaign discourse.

The founding organization of Dump Veolia is a group called the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, which since its inception in 2009 has been researching Veolia's reputation.

As a participant in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, STL-PSC researches companies that in any way facilitate occupation of Palestinian land and seek commitments from governments, businesses and private citizens not to engage financially with them. The BDS movement targets companies as diverse as Timberland, SodaStream and Caterpillar.

STL-PSC member Anna Baltzer says she was surprised to read that Veolia had contracts in her own back yard.

"There needs to be time to share information and concerns," she says of the contract. "Our hope is that if not voted against, it would at least be postponed."

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