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Baltimore officials say there's no plan to privatize water system

Baltimore's public works chief is stressing that the city has no plans to privatize the water system, as hundreds are expected to rally Monday at City Hall.

Rudolph S. Chow, director of the Department of Public Works, issued a statement disputing some activists' claims that a proposed study of the water system could eventually result in the sale of the system to a private company.

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"Let me be clear: There is no plan, no intention, no desire to privatize the DPW," Chow said. "I am committed to making this the most effective customer-focused public works agency that exists. And it will remain in the hands of the public."

Labor organizers and advocacy groups, including the nonprofit Corporate Accountability International, have been closely watching to see which company wins a $500,000 consultant's study that was requested to evaluate the system's operations and maintenance.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said Chow's statement was prompted by continued speculation that he called "irresponsible, inaccurate and uninformed."

"Mayor Rawlings-Blake is not considering privatization of the city water system, and to continue to insinuate otherwise is a shameful betrayal of the public's trust," Harris said.

The rally Monday is being led by One Baltimore United, a coalition of more than 40 labor, faith and community groups. The group is scheduled to gather at 4 p.m. at McKeldin Square and march to City Hall before the City Council meeting.

The potential for Veolia, a global company that specializes in "optimized resource management," to win the consultant's contract is a focus of the rally, along with a call for good jobs, safer neighborhoods, quality education and more affordable housing.

Veolia has referred questions to city officials.

In August, about 50 people rallied outside City Hall, led by labor organizers and Corporate Accountability International. They pointed to a contract proposal between Veolia Water North America and the city of St. Louis that was dropped last year over objections to the company's environmental and business practices, according to newspaper reports.

Baltimore's water system employs 1,500 workers and provides drinking water to 1.8 million people in the region.

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