By Kevin Kelley
Council President Michael Kilbane’s proposed responsible bidder ordinance, which would require the top bidder on city projects to make certain financial and legal disclosures, failed to receive support from a majority of City Council members during a recent committee meeting.
Kilbane, a vocally pro-labor union ironworker, has said the proposal would ensure that contractors on municipal projects are following safety regulations and treating workers fairly. The ordinance would require the top bidder to disclose work-related lawsuits and violations of federal labor laws and workers’ compensation laws, among other things. The council president’s original proposal sought disclosures from all bidders.
Directors of the administration of Eileen Patton have said the ordinance may result in increased costs if fewer contractors bid on projects because of the disclosure requirements. Finance Director Lisa Rocco warned that the additional paperwork required by the disclosures might result in higher costs for the city on municipal contracts. She later told West Life that the work required under the proposed ordinance would be outside the scope of City Engineer Michael Mackay’s retainer fee and that additional consultant fees would kick in.
Kilbane argued that holding contractors to higher safety and quality standards will ultimately save money.
“Eventually, in the long run, I think it will pay for itself,” the council president said of the ordinance.
Nevertheless, Law Director Sarah Fagnilli and Kilbane have exchanged drafts in recent weeks in an attempt to reach an ordinance all could live with.
During debate at a June 4 local government committee meeting, it became apparent the impasse hinged on two issues – when the disclosure requirements kicked in and whether contractors had to participate in apprenticeship programs.
Kilbane and Fagnilli could not even agree on the draft’s wording regarding a bidder’s association with certified apprenticeship programs. Fagnilli’s interpretation was that the bidder would only have to declare whether it participates in an apprenticeship program, while Kilbane said it meant the contractor had to currently be involved in an apprenticeship program.
The even bigger dispute was about which contracts the proposal applied to. Fagnilli drafted the proposal so that the disclosure requirements only take effect on contracts greater than $100,000.
Kilbane wanted the disclosure requirements to take effect on contracts for which the state requires competitive bidding – $25,000 or more.
A motion in favor of the imposing the disclosure requirements on municipal contracts of $25,000 and higher failed, 4 to 3, with Kilbane, at-large member Peggy Cleary and Ward 5 Councilman Pete Matia voting for it. A second vote on essentially the same motion failed by the same margin.
Two motions to impose the requirements only on contracts amounts of $100,000 or higher also failed, with only Ward 1 Councilman Brian McDonough and Ward 2 Councilman Bill Minek voting in favor. Kilbane, Cleary and Matia were unwilling to accept that threshold; the council president said only a small fraction of city contracts reach that dollar amount.
Those motions would have sent the ordinance on to council for a final vote at its next regular meeting.
Kilbane made no attempt to hide his displeasure at the defeat of the motions, and continued to forcefully argue in favor of his proposal.
“Do you want criminals working in this city?” he asked his fellow council members and the law director. “I don’t think so.”
Fagnilli assured him criminals were not working on municipal projects.
Despite the defeat of the two motions, most council members appeared to be searching for a compromise, but in vain.
After more than two hours of debate, members decided to table the proposal for now.