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Thomas Clatterbuck

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The Springfield City Council is fully in support of fixing Chatham Road. There is even agreement in how the repairs should be done. Crews will use a mastic sealant to fill cracks in the road, which should greatly extend the lifespan of the surface. And the company that won the bid to do the work came in $82,000 below the next closest bid.

There is only one problem. The company that won the bid, Denler Inc., has not met the local labor requirements on previous jobs. Although there were no problems with the quality of their work, and they had much higher rates of minority and female participation than the city requires; the last time they had a city contract, they used zero local laborers. Local ordinances required 50 percent of workers to be residents of Springfield. This ordinance is backed up with fees and penalties for noncompliance. Denler Inc. elected to build the cost of these penalties into their bid on the previous project.

Several aldermen were upset that a company simply built the cost of noncompliance fines into their bid. In response to this incident, the council has been working to strengthen the ordinance. Companies that fail to hire sufficient local workers may be barred from bidding on future city contracts for a number of years, in addition to monetary penalties.

David Denler, owner of Denler Inc., said that given the proposed rule changes, he is willing to comply with the local rules. Still, his past actions, along with some statements made during the meeting, have raised concerns in the community and the council. Specifically, questioning the readiness of workers who have come out of local apprenticeship programs. Denler indicated that based on other apprenticeship programs he is aware of, taking on local labor instead of using his own workers introduces risk of injury. These concerns are multiplied by Illinois’ workman’s comp laws.

Weather Concerns

Construction work has a limited season. The mastic sealant needs warm, dry conditions to work. Once the pavement gets below 40 degrees, the mastic cannot be applied. If Chatham road is going to be fixed this year, it likely needs to be done by November. Denler said the mastic work will only take ten to twelve working days to complete.

Public Works Director Mahoney said that if the city waits until next year, the cost of the project will be higher. Public Works engineers expressed concerns about rebidding the project out for the new local labor rules. The bidding process can take eight weeks, which would end too late in the season for work to be done. Denler cautioned that if the process goes out to bid again, contractors may or may not be available because of how construction companies schedule work.

Governmental balancing act

The council took no action last night, and will discuss both the Chatham Road contract and the labor ordinance more at next week’s committee of the whole meeting. Their decision won’t be an easy one. Springfield has serious budget issues, and a limited timeframe to do the work this year. But the council also needs to ensure contractors can’t simply ignore local ordinances as a cost of doing business. Hiring residents is good for the local economy, but so is saving taxpayer money by going with the lowest bidder.

Denler Inc. has a mixed track record. They made a business decision on their last deal that they have to live with. Does good work at a low cost offset past instances of flouting local rules? They say that they are now in compliance with the rules, but the council wants to ensure that compliance on the front end, rather than after the project is finished.

Both the labor ordinance and the contract remain in committee. The next city council meeting where they could be discussed will be September 4th.

You can watch the full discussion in the player. The Denler contract starts at the 30 minute mark.

Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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