Mayor Slay responds aggressively to students’ questions, concerns
Slay, brought to campus by College Democrats, touched on issues such as a proposed contract between the water department and a private company as well as ongoing gun control and health care law debates. Despite low attendance and a slow start as Slay talked to a crowd of students generally more interested in their cell phones, the Q-and-A session that followed tackled local issues head-on.
A number of students who stayed until the end felt the mayor failed to address their concerns adequately or treat their comments respectfully.
“The beginning of his speech was very interesting, but I felt that when students were asking questions, he responded in an aggressive, almost attacking way to the point where it was pretty rude on his part to just say, ‘No, you’re wrong,’” freshman Chandler Elliott-Fehle said. “There was definitely a better way that he could have phrased it.”
Tensions rose when students voiced concern with the mayor’s recent push for entering into a consulting contract with Veolia Water. A multibillion-dollar company, Veolia is the world’s largest private water service operator, primarily working with clients and helping set up infrastructure.
Many students expressed hesitation over the fact that the corporation had a reputation for labor downsizing, poor water quality, leaking landfills and sewage spills.
“Veolia is infamous for this stuff across the world, and their strategic plan right now is to have these contracting deals in places like St. Louis in order to build up their economic capital again,” freshman Lauren Chase said. “I completely understand the fact that we’re not actually allowing Veolia to take over our water system now, but this is a Trojan horse deal—this isn’t just a [short] contact in their mind.”
The mayor pointed out that St. Louis’ water system needs to be upgraded in order to keep the city’s water clean and safe. He stated that there was a competitive process in trying to bring in an outside company to consult about updating the current water system, out of which Veolia emerged the winner.
“Our water rates are going up. Our infrastructure is getting older. It needs a lot of investment,” Slay said.
Chase came forward with a rebuttal during the mayor’s speech, which Slay quickly shut down, stating that she lacked proper information. Chase was concerned about the threats of legal action against City of St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green, who is hesitant to sign off on the contract.
When the event concluded, Patrick Brown, a special assistant to the mayor, approached the student with his business card and offered her additional information about the issue.
But even with Brown’s addition, Chase was still leery of the idea.
“The fact that we’re having a corporation come in and assist us in the first place with our municipal water systems is a huge breach of our human right to water,” she said.
Slay said concerns about the city’s water system were unfounded and that the contract was necessary to address ongoing utility problems.
“Veolia is not going to be running our water department. We are not leasing it to them. We are entering into a management contract with them. They have no say in our water department. We will continue to run it in the best interests of the people I represent,” Slay said. “What we’re buying is ideas.”
He went on to say that their recommendations would be centered toward the strategies for managing the water department in a way that would keep the water at a high quality while ensuring that price rates stay as low as possible.
Slay, who is a part of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, which aims to get illegal guns out of dangerous hands, also spoke about what he felt needed to be done in the City of St. Louis regarding gun control—namely, mandatory background checks for all sales. He also discussed Missouri House Bill 436, which he said “would have been disastrous” if it had passed because it would have “criminalized local law enforcement’s efforts to enforce federal gun laws.”
On the subject of health care, Slay expressed his disappointment in Missouri’s state government for not passing the expansions to Medicaid with the national Affordable Care Act.
“People think we’re wasting federal money, we’re wasting federal tax dollars. We’re paying for it now. We’re paying for it right now,” Slay said.