Something Smells

Has MSD gadfly Tom Sullivan been vindicated?

Contact the Worm at [email protected].

Since the mid-1980s, Tom Sullivan's been on the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District's case like a fly on, well, you know. The citizen activist attends the agency's board meetings, monitors its spending and appointments, questions its policies, demands its records. It's a fairly lonely crusade -- some might even say a magnificent obsession -- watching what may be the least sexy public agency in all of Christendom. Against an agency loaded with and beholden to so many well-paid professionals -- engineers, lawyers, politicians, developers -- Sullivan has had trouble getting taken seriously.

Back in 1999, after Sullivan discovered that the cost of MSD's Skinker-McCausland tunnel project had mysteriously climbed from $27.4 million to more than $40 million, he took his concerns to the city's top prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Dee Joyce-Hayes. Sullivan wasn't only worried how much money was being spent, he was also angry that MSD was routinely violating the state Sunshine Law by meeting in secret. He asked Joyce-Hayes to empanel a grand jury and act to remove the six-member board for neglect of duty.

That didn't happen. Instead, Joyce-Hayes sent two assistants to the MSD board to give a tutorial on the Sunshine Law. Asked why she didn't pursue Sullivan's allegations, Joyce-Hayes told the Riverfront Times in September 2000: "I don't have the kind of resources in this office to undertake that kind of investigation. You need to appreciate that Mr. Sullivan is an archenemy of MSD. They don't breathe but that he takes exception, rightly or wrongly. I've heard from him over eight years very frequently about various allegations concerning MSD. I could make a career out of MSD for Mr. Sullivan."

Joyce-Hayes kicked Sullivan's information up to State Auditor Claire McCaskill, whose recent audits, coupled with scathing reports by MSD's internal auditor, eventually helped expose the stink at MSD. Joyce-Hayes last week told Worm that the information Sullivan provided "had some merit."

Now, amid a Post-Dispatch probe of billing practices and conflicts of interest at MSD, Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Buzz Westfall did what Sullivan urged nearly four years ago: They have named five new trustees to the six-member board. Both politicians said the move was needed to restore public confidence.

Among Slay's appointees: Dee Joyce-Hayes, a law-school classmate of Slay and now a lawyer in private practice whose firm represents some developers.

Worm would have picked Tom Sullivan.

But Sullivan's a realist: "As I told somebody, they wouldn't touch me with a forklift." And he says he's not unhappy with Joyce-Hayes' appointment, especially compared with some of the other "recycled folks" who were named to the board.

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