The lack of construction hiring and contracting requirements for work at the former Tower Automotive site in Milwaukee is raising red flags from policy watchdogs.
The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee in April awarded two contracts to renovate a building at the site for Talgo Inc., a Spanish manufacturer of high-speed trains. The contracts included goals for builders to hire local workers and subcontract with small companies but did not include similar requirements that are part of a law the city passed in 2009.
The discrepancy caught the attention of Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods, which is a project of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said Matt Brusky, director of the Good Jobs project. Good Jobs lobbied for the city law.
“We’re concerned that you have RACM essentially implementing city policy around development,” Brusky said, “and then not being able to enforce city policy.”
Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the Department of City Development, said the state law that authorized the city to create the redevelopment authority also prohibits the authority from setting hiring and contracting requirements. Still, he said, city development officials are committed to satisfying the hiring and contracting requirements in the city law, dubbed the Milwaukee Opportunities for Restoring Employment ordinance.
“Our bottom line is it has never been our intention not to do this,” Marcoux said.
In the future, Marcoux said, the redevelopment authority will not bid out contracts for the redevelopment projects it oversees. The responsibility instead will fall to city departments that can follow the city law, he said.
Brusky said his organization’s attorneys are reviewing state law to see if it prohibits the authority from setting the requirement on contracts. But, he said, Marcoux’s proposed solution, if followed on every contract, is reassuring.
“I don’t want to prejudge,” Brusky said. “Obviously, I think that, as a minimum, goes a long way.”
The MORE law requires city residents registered under Milwaukee’s Residents Preference Program perform 40 percent of the hours worked on city projects. It also requires small contractors registered as emerging business enterprises receive 25 percent of contract money. The law makes the percentages a requirement, rather than a goal, for contractors.
Marcoux said the authority will achieve the 40 and 25 percent participation rates on the redevelopment of the Tower Automotive site. The requirements will be on future public contracts to demolish buildings and build streets and utilities on the property, he said. The authority also will make private developers that buy or lease land on the site follow the requirements on their projects, he said.
Timing prevented the authority from bidding out the contracts for the Talgo project through the city, Marcoux said. The authority’s lease agreement with Talgo requires the city renovate a building for the company by July.
Prism Technical Management and Marketing Services LLC, which the authority hired to oversee participation on the Tower Automotive contracts, is reviewing worker and EBE rates for the Talgo job, said Randy Crump, a senior associate for the Milwaukee-based company. He said the numbers so far suggest contractors will meet the 40 and 25 percent goals.
“It’s going to be a lot better than a lot of people think,” Crump said.
Brusky said the Good Jobs coalition will meet in June to decide its next steps to make sure the MORE law standards are met on the Tower projects.
“It sounds like we’re probably, likely, headed in a positive direction,” he said.