Groups push for contracting changes after MSD vote
A day after voters in St. Louis and St. Louis County approved a $945 million bond issue for the Metropolitan Sewer District, a group of protestors urged the agency to expand minority and female contracting.
Around a dozen people gathered Wednesday afternoon outside of MSD's headquarters, including representatives of Metropolitan Congregations United and MOKAN. The protestors dropped off a letter asking the agency to:
Leaders of Metropolitan Congregations United and MOKAN speak to reporters on Wednesday.
- Commit to "a long-term minority inclusion plan." MSD's Board of Trustees passed interim goals earlier this year while a disparity study is being conducted.
- Provide a percentage of the overall budget to construction training programs.
- Arrange for an outside entity to monitor project procedures and funds.
Yaphett El-Amin, MOKAN's executive director, also said that MSD should make it a priority to contract with people from the region, adding that such a move would stimulate the local economy.
El-Amin said St. Louis and St. Louis County "have written a check to MSD of $945 million. The question is: How will those funds be used to invest back in our local communities?"
MCU President Jim Sahaida added that his group is "encouraged by the contacts we've had with MSD thus far regarding these goals. And we're excited to continue working with them to ensure that both MSD and the community benefit from these propositions."
Voters on Tuesday approved $945 million worth of bonds to pay for a $4.7 billion settlement over 23 years to address wastewater overflows throughout the system in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
With years of construction work looming, some groups – such as the St. Louis branch of the NAACP – have pushed MSD to change its contracting policies toward minorities and women.
MSD spokesman Lance LeComb said in an e-mail on Tuesday that the disparity study is expected to be completed in late summer or early fall, adding that “the rule of thumb is about seven months for these things and the contract was entered into in February.”
On Wednesday, LeComb said in telephone interview it was important for the disparity study to be completed before committing to any new goals, adding “we need to get a proper and complete study done to get proper complete numbers.”
LeComb went to say that giving local companies priority for contracts may not be possible, especially if an outside company puts in a lower bid. He also said the agency already does some third-party monitoring of projects. And he added committing money to training programs “comes at a cost to all our ratepayers.”
“We’re not going to throw money at a problem just to throw money at a problem," LeComb said. "We’re going to invest money in a way that is productive and beneficial for all our ratepayers, for all of St. Louis.”