Motown malfeasance stalls sludge pact here

Mayor Nutter today said the city won’t turn over operation of its sludge plant to Houston-based Synagro, Inc. without a full review of allegations that company representatives bribed Detroit city officials to seal a similar deal in that city.
“It has come to our attention that Synagro...has come under some scrutiny in connection with its work for the City of Detroit,” Nutter wrote in a letter to City Council President Anna C. Verna. “Please rest assured that we are reviewing these issues and will not proceed with the execution of the contract before that review is complete.”
Nutter has on his desk legislation, approved by City Council in June 19, that turns operation of the city’s Biosolids Recycling Plant in Southwest Philadelphia to Synagro in a deal that city officials claim will save the city at least $100 million. Biosolids is a technical term for the treated solid human waste that becomes fertilizer at the plant.
Union workers oppose the 23-year-contract, arguing that the projected savings are grossly exaggerated and that the deal was steered to Synagro by the Street administration, who benefited from Synagro political contributions.
The proposal stalled under Street, but Nutter concluded it was worthwhile.
Then, a week after Council approved the deal, revelations of an FBI probe in Detroit began to surface. Detroit City Council approved a contract with Synagro in November by a 5-4 vote. According to news reports, the FBI is now investigating whether a Synagro representative and a minority partner bribed City Council members and their staff to influence the vote.
Water Commissioner Bernard Brunwasser said none of the principals under investigation in Detroit worked here. Synagro concurred.
“It’s a legitimate question,” said Jim Hecht, the Baltimore-based project manager for Synagro’s Philadelphia venture. But, he added, “The players are not the same, the activities are not the same.”
Nutter’s spokesman, Doug Oliver, said “there doesn’t appear to be anything inappropriate here in Philadelphia,” but Nutter wanted time to sort through the players and events to make sure of it.
Synagro’s problems in Detroit have provided an opening for Local 394 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, representing the 60 workers at the Philadelphia plant.
Last week the union distributed news clips from Detroit to Philadelphia City Council members, with a letter asking members to rescind their vote.
Nutter said he would meet with union officials and hear their concerns before signing a contract with Synagro.