A legal analysis reveals that a proposed contract with Veolia Water, a French multinational corporation, would give the foreign company control of St. Louis waterworks and undermine citizen rights to obtain information about operations under the Sunshine law. While promising more transparency in government, Mayor Francis Slay has claimed repeatedly that the contract is merely a consulting contract seeking advice on running the St. Louis Water Division. However, the contract itself contradicts this view.
“The provisions of the proposed contract make it crystal clear that that the operations of the City’s Water Division would be under the control of Veolia- that’s privatizing,” said Kathleen Logan Smith, Director of Environmental Policy with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
“The contract goes far beyond a typical consulting contract. I cannot understand why our city’s politicians would claim otherwise, unless they have not read it.”
A legal review finds that the plain language of the proposed contract contains troubling articles that give away the city's intellectual property rights to Veolia, effectively eliminating the ability of the City to run the Water Division in the future.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center conducted the review and explains the impact of the flaws found in Article 8 of the proposed contract:
“This is troubling because it provides that a private for-profit multi-national corporation will become owner of all ideas for improving the St. Louis City Water Division, a public entity,” Logan Smith said. “The City will no longer own the designs for its systems. The public Water Division will, in effect, no longer be public.”
The contract states that the City shall provide Veolia with offices, desks, copies, internet and access to the City’s facilities, personnel and information technology systems (Article 13). Great Rivers Environmental Law Center points out that with Veolia employees sitting side by side with City employees, and having access to the City’s information technology systems, it will be impossible to prove that an idea is developed solely by the City and not jointly with Veolia. Thus, Veolia would have rights, under this flawed contract, to all the information and will be in control of the St. Louis City Water Division’ data, practices and operations.
The analysis shows that contract also threatens to undermine Sunshine law provisions because once a private company shares office space and computer systems with a public entity, the private company will easily be able to convince a court that almost everything is “proprietary” and a “trade secret.” The letter notes, “After Veolia has access to the City’s computer systems, there will be nothing to prevent it from requiring the City to deny many Sunshine Law requests on the basis that the information is now proprietary to Veolia. The City’s records will, in effect, be privatized and the Sunshine Law eviscerated.”
“Privatization of the St. Louis water system is a fait accompli if this contract is approved and Mayor Slay has indicated repeatedly that privatizing the water system will require a vote of the people,” said Logan Smith. “Either this contract is rewritten or the people of St. Louis get to vote.”