Akron may serve as the contractor on the Rack 15 sewer project in light of a federal lawsuit challenging the city’s local hiring policy.
Mayor Don Plusquellic will ask Akron City Council on Monday to pass legislation permitting him to take this somewhat unorthodox step, which he says will help achieve the goals of Akron residents getting the work and keeping the city on pace to meet the deadlines in its sewer project.
“This is not something I wanted to do,” Plusquellic said Friday afternoon. “If I have to be the new contracting company in town, that is what I am going to do.”
The Ohio Contractor’s Association, a Columbus-based, not-for-profit group that represents contractors across Ohio, sued Akron in federal court Tuesday, claiming the city’s local hiring requirements for its sewer project violate the U.S. and Ohio constitutions and the City of Akron Municipal Code.
Judge Sara Lioi denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Thursday, granting the city permission to open the bids for the Rack 15 project and proceed with awarding the work while the larger lawsuit proceeds.
Plusquellic, however, said Friday that Akron’s outside counsel advised against opening the bids while the lawsuit is still pending, saying this could open the city up to other litigation.
With the council’s approval of the legislation, Plusquellic said the city will use either its own employees or employees from a local union hall to do at least the preliminary work in the Rack 15 project. If the hiring requirements lawsuit is settled, the city will then open the bids and allow the lowest and best bidder that also complies with the hiring thresholds to complete the work.
Plusquellic announced in March that the city will require contractors to hire 30 percent of their employees from within the city this year, with the number ramping up by 5 percent a year until 2018 when it will reach 50 percent. The threshold will be in an agreement that contractors must accept when they are seeking work under the estimated $1.4 billion sewer overhaul.
Plusquellic said he doesn’t want to wait to start on the Rack 15 project because the work must be completed by October 2015 under the current agreement Akron has with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to settle a federal lawsuit on overflows into local waterways caused by the city’s combined sanitary and storm water system.
The city also may take the same approach for the Mud Run pump station and storage basin project that has bids due May 13.
“If we have to do every job this way, that’s they way we will do it,” Plusquellic said.
The Rack 15 project is expected to cost about $8.9 million and involves building a storage tank to hold about 1.6 million gallons of water near the Little Cuyahoga River. The $13.5 million Mud Run project involves refurbishing the existing pump station in the Kenmore area and building a new storage basin.
Law Director Cheri Cunningham said she isn’t sure how long the lawsuit filed by the contractors group will take to resolve.
Interestingly, a company belonging to the Ohio Contractors Association most likely would be awarded the Rack 15 project, with its members making up five of the six businesses that submitted bids, Plusquellic said.
Patrick Devine, a Columbus attorney who represents the Ohio Contractors Association, was stunned Friday to hear about Plusquellic’s plan. He said Lioi’s decision meant Akron could proceed with awarding bids and that’s what the contractors group expected the city to do. He declined further comment.
The group says in its lawsuit that Akron’s hiring requirements put its members who live outside of Akron on “unequal footing” when bidding on the city’s sewer projects.
Council President Garry Moneypenny said he’s sure council members will have questions about Plusquellic’s proposal. However, he said council members overwhelmingly support securing as much work as possible in the sewer project for local residents and the mayor’s new approach would do this.
“We may get to exceed 30 percent,” he said, referring to the local hiring goal for this year.