Since then, Dump Veolia has been calling attention to the blemishes on Veolia's reputation. In Indianapolis, where the company ran the water utility, the company is currently the defendant in two class-action lawsuits that accuse them of over-billing customers. The city bought Veolia out of its contract early after a slew of allegations of mismanagement, price gouging and even lowering the water quality to save money. A nonprofit watchdog group out of Washington, D.C., called Food & Water Watch has also had its eye on Veolia for years.

"We have seen examples where they've managed sewage systems; under their management there's been sewage spills," says Mary Grant, a researcher at Food & Water Watch. "There's also a lot of private companies in general when they take over, they do engage in corner cutting."

Kat Logan Smith, the director of environmental policy for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, is one of the local environmentalists opposed to working with Veolia.

"This is a company with a bad record," she says. "We don't necessarily want this particular company making any decisions about [our water] at all, end of story."

On December 19, 2012, the Veolia contract was set to be approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a three-member board made of Slay, Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green. After Dump Veolia inundated Reed and Green's offices with calls, both politicians balked at the vote and suggested the contract should go back to the search committee. When the contract — unchanged — found its way back onto the next E&A meeting agenda on January 16, several dozen Dump Veolia members lined the hallway in front of the mayor's office.

Rather than force the contract through on January 16, the E&A Board pulled it from the meeting. Afterward, Green made public a letter she wrote to Reed asking him to hold hearings on the contract "as soon as possible."

"There is unending controversy surrounding this proposed contract. There are allegations regarding the purpose and intent of the Water Division in the proposed collaboration with Veolia, as well as serious allegations regarding Veolia's performances and results in other cities," she wrote. "Veolia deserves to be heard in a public forum as well."

Veolia's voice has been largely silent in the ensuing public uproar. While it has faced legal action elsewhere, there are also water managers in other cities who will vouch for the company's services. Siegfried, the study manager for the St. Louis contract should it ever move forward, says the meetings that have already taken place at the water division have given him some idea of what he would tackle. The department's vehicle fleet would need an upgrade; he would assess why water usage is so high per customer in St. Louis as compared to other cities and attempt to find ways to pay for badly needed capital improvements. Siegfried is also adamant that the Veolia recommendations would never touch the St. Louis water formula.

"They have excellent-tasting water. They have never had an EPA violation for water. That is not something that can be compromised," he says.

Siegfried also emphatically echoes the answer that Slay has given in public whenever asked about the contract: no layoffs, no privatization.

"What we're there to do is help you have a more efficient operation," he says, "Why would you be upset about that?"


The mayor is running late.

Every seat in the basement of the Carpenter branch of the St. Louis Public Library in Tower Grove South is filled for a January 24 mayoral-candidate forum. By the time Slay arrives, his opponent, board of aldermen president Lewis Reed, has come and gone.

Slay unwinds a scarf from his neck and is ushered to the front of the room where he leaps into a five-minute pitch on why he should become the first St. Louis mayor ever to win a fourth consecutive term. He covers crime, education, the fight against homelessness, the economy, public health.

"I've got a great team, an honest team in place," he concludes. "We get things done."

The moderator steps up and begins reading question cards submitted from the audience. Then he reads a question he wrote himself.

"One of my big concerns is the city's relationship with Veolia," he begins. "Why should St. Louis spend $250,000 on a consultation contract with a company which makes its money from running and owning water supplies?"

In the audience several members are wearing "Dump Veolia" stickers. There's anti-Veolia literature on a back table. And when Reed answered the same question ten minutes earlier by slamming Veolia, the entire room broke into applause.

"I appreciate the question," Slay begins. "It gives me an opportunity to clarify a lot of misinformation. And believe me there's a lot."

Slay reemphasizes that the contract is not a path to privatization.

"They're not going to run the water department; they're not going to make any decisions in our water department whatsoever," he says emphatically. "Maybe we won't get the votes. You know, others are afraid that these fears and misinformation may come to reality. I can promise you as your mayor that they will not. This department is not going to be sold."

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7 comments
scott19674
scott19674 topcommenter

Good story. That's what the hell I'm talking about. Strong work.

opaart52
opaart52

As a water division employee we hear all the rumors. Most of us are hard working and take pride in our jobs. The public would be surprised at how few of us there are on the streets doing the actual work.And when the mayor came to "explain" what this all meant I don't think there was one worker who believed him .Why management doesn't ask us how to improve the division is beyond me!

klogansmith
klogansmith

What do we do? Here's my list.

1. We demand that the Board of E&A Dump Veolia Feb. 20th at its meeting (2 p.m City Hall Room 200). Show up. The Board of E&A is Darlene Green, Lewis Reed, Francis Slay.

2. We demand an open and transparent process going forward. STL cannot afford any more scandals about public money going for private gain. And we cannot trust our water to just anyone.

3. We convene a citizens stakeholder group to review the problems in the water system (they are substantial). The group must include businesses, institutions, and residents and must not be selected among the usual list of political friends of the Mayor.

There is nothing more important to our future than our water. It is worth the time, and investment.
Are you in?

kennthnrmn
kennthnrmn

Why aren't the residents a part of this. Why is it a few people have all control over  turning our water that is rightfully called (Saint Louis Water Division)?  Something this big should come to a vote by the people.  And this company is from another country with offices in AMERICA.  I say this all the time ,but this country is being sold out to other countries and fat cats like Mckee and the northside deal ,right up under our noses, and the people say nothing. Darlene Green and Lewis Reed  can stop this, but i don't know about Reed as Mayor and definatly notSlay  and  Mathews is out of the question.  SO WHAT DO WE DO.

bill
bill

@opaart52 Why must management "ask" for how to make improvements!  Get off your duff, make improvements and rise to the top of the management chain!

opaart52
opaart52

@bill   You either do not work for the city or know anyone who does. We are tolod that we are paid to do not think. I try to do more than I am required to do however when I see all the waste and stupidity coming from on "high", we all become very discouraged that there is anything that can be done!

 
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