St. Clair Shores Approves Contract for Court Building in Heated Meeting

City Council voted 5-2 to award a bid for a new district court after residents and union members packed City Hall to voice their concerns about paying prevailing wages on the project.

St. Clair Shores City Council took a step toward a new 40th District Court Monday night by approving a $3.5-million bid for a new building.

The final vote came after heated discussion during public comment and debate by council members about the project to replace the 80-year-old building.

Residents, union leaders and some council members expressed their concern about awarding the contract to bidder who was not going to pay a prevailing wage.

But after nearly two hours of debate, discussion and rejected counter-proposals, council voted 5-2 to approve the bid and direct the contractor to attempt to use union labor.

"It is a building whose lifetime has passed," said Ben Hughes, St. Clair Shores city manager. "Pumping money into a building that needs repairs, that is nearly 80-years-old, is not a wise decision."

Six general contractors bid on the project, and the winning bid went to St. Clair Shores-based Bernco, Inc. Included in the cost estimates are the cost of demolition, relocating the court to the former St. Gertrude School and construction of a new building.

Hughes added that he authorized bid specifications to be sent out that did not include language for prevailing wage.

"I determined mandating prevailing wage would result in me bringing back bid results to this council that would be significantly higher than $3.5 million," said Hughes, after the lengthy public comment. "I fully understand the comments tonight. I also have the responsibility to be a good steward of tax dollars."

The project, as proposed Monday night, would cost $3.5 million. It would be funded through $1.8 million currently in the court building fund, and the balance through the sale of municipal bonds.

Hughes said the funding structure will not require general fund dollars be used for the project.  

Resident J.R. Kettler addressed council and stated that the city would not be getting the highest quality workmanship by using non-union labor.

"You think you are saving money," said Kettler, a union sheet metal worker. "You are not saving money."

Mayor pro-tem Peter Rubino spoke in favor of bid as proposed, and added a provision initially brought up by councilman Ron Frederick to allow unions to bid on the project using "target funds."

"Do we want to not put people to work because we can't afford the prevailing wage? Or do we want to put people to work," Rubino said. "That is what it boils down to, we can't afford the bids when it comes to prevailing wage.

"I would rather have people working than not working at all," he added.

Councilman Chris Vitale voted against the proposal. He expressed his concern about the "razor thin" margin of the budget for the project, the fact the city didn't consider alternative locations to allow for private development at 11 Mile and Jefferson, and the quality of the laborers.

"When you choose contractors from trade unions, you at least have some assurance of their skill level," Vitale said. "This is not a kitchen remodel. This is not the kind of project where you choose people from the labor wanted section of Craigslist."

The court building is the biggest municipal building construction project since City Hall was renovated and rehabilitated in 1999.

Jimmy October 03, 2012 at 10:41 AM
Please correct me if I'm wrong... But I remember the site of the Municipal Court being a treed field as late as the mid-1960s. No building whatsoever on that property. And if it were nearly 80 years old, it would have had to be in that spot since the 1930s. Streching the truth here a bit.
Chuck Hall October 03, 2012 at 12:45 PM
If the city is going to continue to show this rendering then I would suggest they alter the rendering to properly depict the U.S. Flag. No other flag should ever appear at a height above the U.S. Flag anywhere.
DJG October 03, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I know this is going to get heated...so I'll lob the first pitch. First off, I like Mr. Vitale. I can't say I agree with everything he says/does, but I do a majority of them. This just happens to be one I disagree with. Saying that only quality construction work comes from a union is like saying kids can't be taught properly by anyone but a teacher. Chris, you may have overlooked the fact that some of these workers were probably union at one time, but because of the higher cost...the union can no longer find them work. I know several people that were union, went through the apprenticeship, earned (or bought) their journeyman's card. But when it comes to sitting at home collecting unemployment or working for less of wage...they'll take the latter. I have a few good friend that own thriving businesses, employ ex-union employees and they do fantastic work. The only thing you're gaurenteed when you hire union work is they'll make this much per hour, get this many coffee breaks, take this long for lunch...and they'll be packed up by 3PM but charging you till 5. Probably done by 2 on Friday. This is where it's important for the city council to work with the contract to set forth goals and milestones in the contract that state deliverables and restrictions. Simple as that. Again, saying you don't get quality work if you don't use a "union" shop is just shortsighted, plain and simple. People have to feed their family, even if their "local" can't fine them work.


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