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Ozaukee County project draws union complaints

The Wisconsin Department of Commerce is still reviewing building permit compliance on this 2009 facade improvement project to the exterior of the Ozaukee County administrative building in Port Washington. (Photo courtesy of Ozaukee County)

The Wisconsin Department of Commerce is still reviewing building permit compliance on this 2009 facade improvement project to the exterior of the Ozaukee County administrative building in Port Washington. (Photo courtesy of Ozaukee County)

By Sean Ryan

Ozaukee County officials say they are almost in the clear after work on county buildings without a permit drew complaints from construction unions.

The dispute is over two contracts for county administrative building facade improvements the county awarded without competitively bidding. The county awarded the projects in 2008 and 2009 without bids because, individually, the contracts were below the $25,000 threshold set by the state that requires public bids, said Joseph Hicks, Ozaukee County administration center building superintendent.

“It all came out a year or so later,” he said. “The unions said we didn’t do it right.”

The projects drew a prevailing wage and competitive bidding lawsuit from the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers District Council of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Alliance for Fair Contracting.

The bricklayers’ lawsuit charged the county with circumventing competitive bidding laws by separating the two facade contracts from the 2008 contract to demolish the adjoining county jail. The three contracts should have been competitively bid as one project, according to the lawsuit, because the facade work was to improve the walls exposed when the county demolished the jail.

An Ozaukee County Circuit Court judge dismissed the lawsuit April 27.

The Wisconsin Alliance for Fair Contracting also filed an inquiry in September to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development over whether prevailing wages should have been required on the contracts, said John Dipko, department spokesman.

“It remains under investigation at this time,” Dipko said.

Craig Zentgraf, field supervisor for the Wisconsin Alliance for Fair Contracting, said he wants to see more done regarding the Department of Commerce violations.

“I’m a bit frustrated,” he said, “because of the lack of progress in resolving outstanding issues.”

Representatives of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers District Council would not comment.

The Wisconsin Department of Commerce in February decided the facade projects violated state permitting rules because they were performed without a building permit. Commerce inspectors this week, according to an e-mail to the county, said they found minor violations on the project, but did not specify which violations, Hicks said.

“We will address whatever needs to be done,” he said.

Hicks said he did not pull a building permit for the facade work because a city building inspector told him the demolition permit covered the work.

He said that, in hindsight, he should have done more research into the permitting.

“I would in the future,” Hicks said. “I learned a lot from this project. I would definitely do things differently.”

The 2008 facade contract worth $18,900 was awarded to Paulus Construction LLC, Fredonia, and did not require prevailing wages, Hicks said. Hicks said he did not include the facade work in the demolition contract because he did not know the administrative building exterior would need work until after the jail was demolished.

A separate 2009 contract worth roughly $12,000 was similarly awarded to Dave Brunner Concrete and Masonry LLC, Fredonia, without bids or prevailing wages. The contract was for a different segment of the administrative building’s wall. Hicks said he did not know that area of the wall would need work until 2009, so it was under a separate contract from the 2008 work.

Dennis Kenealy, Ozaukee County corporation counsel, said the lawsuit and the other charges against the project are overblown and without merit.

“Where it all came from, I have no idea,” he said. “It was a minor thing anyway.”

Hicks said the union complaints came only after he awarded the facade jobs to Paulus and David Brunner, two nonunion companies. Although the past year of contention stressed him out, he said, he bears no hard feelings.

“I have nothing against the unions,” he said.

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