News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 11, 2010

City Council passes ‘responsible bidder’ ordinance

Hotly-contested measure approved by 5-4 vote

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Terre Haute City Council voted narrowly Thursday night in favor of an ordinance imposing new standards on contractors seeking city construction projects.

In a 5-4 vote, the council approved General Ordinance 2, 2010, better known as the “responsible bidder” ordinance. Supporters of the ordinance, mostly organized labor, said the ordinance will prevent low-quality contractors from winning city contracts.

“I’m very happy,” said Todd Thacker, business manager and financial secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 725. “Five people [on the council] understood that when we raise the tide, we raise all boats.”

Voting in favor of the ordinance, which received some last-minute revisions Thursday, were councilmen Jim Chalos, D-at large, Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd, John Mullican, D-6th, Todd Nation, D-4th, and Turk Roman, D-2nd.

Opposing the ordinance were councilmen George Azar, D-at large, Rich Dunkin, D-1st, Don Morris, D-at large and Neil Garrison, D-5th.

Approximately 135 people – nearly all supporters of the ordinance – crowded into the council chamber for Thursday night’s meeting. Statements in favor of the ordinance, which applies to city contracts of more than $150,000, were often followed by enthusiastic applause.

David Wulf, a volunteer representative of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the council in opposition to the ordinance prior to the vote.

The key sticking point was a paragraph in the ordinance that would require any apprentices on a city construction job to be certified through the U.S. Department of Labor.

Wulf stated that this requirement would effectively limit city contracts to contractors using union labor. As a result, it will reduce the number of bidders and likely raise the city’s construction costs, he said.

Supporters of the ordinance, however, disagreed, saying the ordinance will require better-quality work and provide a better value for taxpayers.

“The responsible bidder ordinance is going to benefit the taxpayer,” said Tom Szymanski, business representative of the IBEW Local 725. Supporters of the ordinance also said it will prevent contractors who violate state labor laws from winning local contracts.

“This ordinance will prohibit contractors from paying illegal aliens with our tax dollars,” said Ed Ping, a member of the Vigo County Council, who spoke in favor of the ordinance.

n Also at Thursday night’s three-hour meeting, the council voted to give preliminary approval for tax-exempt bonds to be used to build a new Holiday Inn Express hotel near Interstate 70 and Indiana 46. The bonds, which total $3.5 million, were made available to Indiana counties through the 2009 federal stimulus bill. Final approval of use of the bonds for the project will come before the council next month.

The bonds, which are known as economic recovery zone bonds, are not backed by tax dollars, but do allow borrowers to save 1 to 2 percent in interest payments.

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.