I haven’t heard the most recent on this one, but it is VERY disturbing to me. High quality water is a human right and doesn’t deserve to be used as a political pawn.
ST. LOUIS • The controversial consulting contract between the St. Louis water division and Veoilia is a signature away from approval. The city, hoping to cut costs in its water division, had for months considered a $250,000 consulting contract with Veolia Water North America, but the process had been stymied by protests of the company’s environmental and business practices.
Now, Mayor Francis Slay, who has pushed for the contract, has directed Comptroller Darlene Green to sign it, bypassing explicit approval from the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment.
“It doesn’t have to be approved by E&A,” Slay said on Wednesday.
Slay had put the issue on hold in February when he failed to find a majority for approval. Slay had brought it before the board in February because the expenditure wasn’t included in that year’s budget. Expenditures are approved by the city’s three person Board of Estimate and Apportionment, made up of Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green, and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
In a letter dated October 4, 2013, City Counselor Patricia Hageman wrote to Green saying: “After reviewing the history of the appropriation and the contractor selection processes, it is my opinion that all of the requisite approvals already have been obtained and that you, as Comptroller, have a ministerial duty to sign the enclosed contract.”
Hageman argues that the board has already approved the water division’s budget, which included a $1.3 million appropriation for generic “professional services.” She said that Director of Public Utilities Curtis B. Skouby appeared before the aldermanic Ways and Means Committee during the budget process and said part of the appropriation included the $250,000 Veolia expenditure. The Board of Aldermen approved the budget.
“After receiving that information, the Board of Aldermen did not exercise its authority to eliminate the $250,000 appropriation for the Veolia contract from the water department’s overall appropriation,” Hageman wrote.
Hageman concludes that since the Board of Estimate and Apportionment okayed the budget, which included the expenditure, as did the Board of Aldermen, the contract can be signed without being brought back up for specific approval.
Comptroller Darlene Green made a last minute addition to Wednesday’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment agenda to discuss the issue, gaining approval to remove language of a “phase two” study beyond the contract’s $250,000 authorization.
Lewis Reed abstained, saying it was the first he has heard of the issue.
Green’s lawyer, Elaine Harris Spearman, wrote in a letter dated October 16 that the comptroller “could be required by a court to execute a particular contract.”
She advised that the contract could be signed if the “phase two” language was removed.
The company would be charged analyzing the water division and studying ways to reduce costs to help the city avoid raising rates. Protesters point to a variety of issues with the company, from environmental to its business practices, saying the company has cut water quality testing and has operated lax maintenance in other cities. Some have argued the city is attempting to outsource the entire water division, although officials state that is prevented by the city’s charter and would take a public vote.
Green didn’t say if she will sign the contract, but said it is “in the process of approval.”
Spearman said after Wednesday’s meeting that the contract will be amended, and that she expected that Green would bring it back before the Board of Estimate and Apportionment before she takes action.