Council holds off on penalty increase for noncompliant contractors

Sophia Bollag, City Editor

City Council voted Tuesday to hold off on a proposed fee increase for contractors who do not employ Evanston residents on city-funded construction projects.

The proposed change would amend the Minority, Women and Evanston Based Employer Program and the Local Employment Program to increase the fine contractors must pay if they fail to employ Evanston residents on construction projects funded by the city.

Currently about 43 percent of contractors comply with the rule.

Ald. Don Wilson (4th) suggested that discussion be held for a future date in order to allow time to meet with contractors whom the penalty increase would affect.

“We need to make some changes and need to make adjustments to have this become … an effective program,” he said. “But I feel very strongly that we should also be including the contractors that have been on the jobs as part of this conversation. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to find out exactly why they’re not hiring our people.”

As of Thursday, there were no plans in place to schedule the meetings, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. He added that the proposal will be discussed again at the council’s June 9 meeting.

The proposed change would amend the MWEBE penalty, which currently fines contractors $100 per day if they fail to comply with the policy, to a progressive fine of 3 percent of the total project value.

“Our goal is not to create additional revenue,” said Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd), who introduced the amendment at the April 28 Administration and Public Works Committee meeting. “It’s really to drive compliancy.”

The MWEBE Committee suggested the 3-percent penalty so that all projects, regardless of size, would be compelled to comply with the rule.

“I feel much more comfortable with a progressive fee that’s more scaled to the amount of the contract,” Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said at the April 28 committee meeting. “It’s the 3 percent that seems to be a big jump.”

Wilson also voiced concern about the proposal. He said he thought the city needed to develop programs “to provide a pool of qualified, trained employees” before implementing a penalty.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to pass the punishment until we’ve figured out what the program is going to end up looking like,” Wilson said at the Tuesday council meeting.

At the April 28 meeting, Braithwaite said he welcomed the debate over the amendment but urged that the aldermen work to implement it quickly.

“We’re getting ready to go into construction season right now with a failing grade of compliancy,” he said.

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