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Binghamton City Council Delays Vote On Sewer Plant Audit

Bing-JC Sewer Audit Vote WEB

ENDWELL, NY (WSKG) — Members of the Binghamton City Council opted to take the weekend to further consider a proposal allowing the mayor to enter an agreement with a water infrastructure firm to conduct a maintenance audit of the Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant, which serves several communities in Broome County.

Several council members are concerned about, Veolia, the proposed firm in question, and the specifics of the contract Mayor Rich David would enter into surrounding the audit.

Councilwoman Aviva Friedman moved to postpone the vote saying that council had been promised, but had not been given the draft contract. While her motion was successful, Corporation Counsel to the city, Ken Frank, refuted Friedman’s claim and asserted that the contract was comprised of a professional services agreement and exhibit document provided to her and other council members prior to the meeting.

Councilwoman Angela Riley fired back at Frank, saying she and others wanted to see the specifics and be guaranteed they would not be amended by the mayor prior to coming to an agreement with Veolia.

"What we're asking for is not a template and not a proposal that can be amended based upon the negotiations of the parties involved,” Riley said. “We would like to see so that we are not ultimately holding the bag when someone comes back without a written report."

Frank interrupted Riley several times, at one point necessitating Council President Sophia Resciniti to intervene asking the parties not to talk over each other. He maintained that the contract for the audit was being proposed under normal procedures.

"That is what you have received,” Frank said. “We can fill in the name, but the proposal is the exhibit to that contract."

It is not unusual for municipal bodies to give executives, such as a mayor or county executive, authority to work out the specifics and come to an agreement on contracts.

The delay of the vote came after nearly two hours of public comment from over 20 speakers, all of which were opposed to the contract with Veolia.

Many of them cited concerns about the company’s involvement in Flint, Michigan’s water system. Veolia was sued by the state’s attorney general for negligence and fraud, though large components of that lawsuit were thrown out.

Nayyirah Shariff, director of a non-profit working to alleviate the effects of Flint’s water crisis, participated in public comment warning the council about the effects of lead poisoning she has seen in her community.

“We wanted to make sure that folks, our comrades, the people that we love in the United States do not have to experience this," Shariff said. "I would really urge you to not even consider Veolia in this contract."

Four current workers at the treatment plant also addressed the council as well. They defended the staff’s ability to manage its maintenance plan and largely shunned Veolia’s existing equipment at the plant. Several of them raised suspicions that the audit would lead to a renewed effort to privatize the plant, which had been suggested two years ago.

"These are brand new things that are breaking already, and that is from Veolia,” Gary Edwards, one of the plant workers said. “So, hmm, coverup, conflict of interest. I mean just throw any word out there you'd like."

Veolia was one of the firms that made a proposal to manage the facility in 2019.

Two council members, Tom Scanlon and Phillip Strawn, both said they tend to believe Veolia’s proposal for privatizing the plant are separate from their potential involvement in the maintenance audit.

“As far as I'm concerned this is a standalone issue,” Strawn said. “Whether Veolia is the right course or not, that's the standing issue I guess for this one. But as far as privatization, I view it as a complete standalone separate, completely separate thing."

The council plans to reconvene Monday, April 12 at 6 p.m. to resume consideration of agreement.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.