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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Kids in the Hall

Council opens discussion on an ordinance that would require more transparency by developers

by Andy Balaskovitz

Monday, Oct. 22 — Another politically charged battle between organized labor and the chamber of commerce could be brewing in the Lansing City Council chambers. 


Look no further than a proposed ordinance that aims to increase transparency in the bidding for projects that receive certain tax incentives.


The Council held a public hearing on the ordinance tonight, which brought in three supporters and no opponents. A Council committee has been working on the ordinance for more than two months.


The draft bid transparency ordinance would require applicants — any entity that receives tax incentives for development projects — to publicly disclose all contractors who submitted bids for work on a project and for how much. Also, the ordinance requires applicants to agree to “award the contract to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder.” If a contract is not awarded to the lowest bidder, the applicant must notify within 30 days “all bidders whose previously recorded bid was less than the chosen bidder” and in that letter, “detail the reason the bidder was not selected.”


The ordinance applies to projects taking advantage of industrial facilities tax abatements; brownfield tax incentives; Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act incentives; and personal property exemptions. It does not apply to projects already approved by the Council.


Organized labor is backing the ordinance because it says it will bring fairness and openness to development projects and make light of instances when work is contracted out to non-local companies. Councilman Derrick Quinney, who’s employed full-time by the AFL-CIO as the state health and safety director, insists that the ordinance does not outwardly favor organized labor, but would help both union and non-union shops. Quinney chairs the Council’s Development and Planning Committee, which has been considering the ordinance.


“We’ve heard many concerns about work being awarded to contractors not in Lansing,” Quinney said during tonight’s meeting. “What this ordinance provides us is a way of offering some transparency on how the process is developed and what occurs.”


The ordinance reportedly has support from Council President Brian Jeffries, who also sits on Development and Planning, and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood.


Meanwhile, skeptics of the ordinance suggest it may be burdensome on developers. Mayoral Chief of Staff Randy Hannan said tonight that the city’s received letters from the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and insurance company Jackson National Life — “Both have expressed serious concerns about the proposal,” he said.


According to MLive.com, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership has also expressed skepticism with the ordinance during the committee process.


Tonight’s public hearing featured three members of the public in support of the ordinance. Price Dobernick, a business agent with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 333, was one of them.


The ordinance “is long overdue,” Dobernick said tonight during public comment. “I believe Council should support this ordinance in an effort to support all employees regardless of labor affiliation.” He added that developers would “not be required to perform any new task they don’t already do.”


At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar is taking a fairly neutral position as she studies the ordinance more and seeks input from potentially affected parties. She suspects there will be “some amendments” proposed, but could not provide details. “In general I think it’ll be a good idea, but the devil is in the details.”


Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko plans to propose an amendment that would address the qualifications of contractors, not just the “responsible and responsible” bidders — for instance, those who specialize in a particular type of construction.


Following the public hearing, the ordinance was sent back to Development and Planning for further consideration.

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