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Preference law lacks defense

By Chris Thompson

Milwaukee is exposing a lack of faith in its local bidding preference law by refusing to apply it to the renovation project for Talgo Inc. at the Tower Automotive site.

Milwaukee Department of City Development spokesman Jeff Fleming said as much when he cited legal concerns for removing the preference from contract documents for the estimated $6 million project.

Legally, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, as a private corporation running the Talgo project, does not have to apply the preference, which gives Milwaukee-based companies a 5 percent cushion up to $25,000 when bidding on city projects.

But that is not the legal reason Fleming offered for sidestepping the law. The city simply is worried someone will sue. If that happens, the odds of hitting the tight timeline for the project go from difficult to impossible.

A lawsuit isn’t a stretch considering Milwaukee already is defending the law in court after sewer contractors sued following project awards based on the law.

But failure to apply the law at the Tower site is the worst kind of defense. It shows a lack of confidence and could encourage more lawsuits from out-of-city contractors that lose out on projects because of the preference.

Milwaukee never should have passed the law. It alienates contractors and increases the likelihood other cities will do the same to Milwaukee businesses.

At least Milwaukee built into the law discretion for its application. Of course, fear is a lousy foundation for discretion.

Chris Thompson is the editor of The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 225-1818.

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