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Verner seeks rule change to overlook lowest bidder for contracts


Mayor wants $300,000 threshold for new bid law

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has shifted her position on new rules allowing the city to overlook the lowest bidder for city contracts when companies have poor records following the law.

Verner opted not to sign the ordinance, which was approved on a 5-2 vote on April 4. The absence of her signature doesn’t constitute a veto, which could have been overridden, and the rules will become law.

Instead, the mayor is pushing for an amendment that would reduce the number of contracts affected by the rules. Verner has asked that only contracts worth $300,000 or more be subject to the law, which requires a low bidder – the assumed winner of a city contract – to complete a questionnaire about the company’s compliance with safety, labor, environmental and other rules. The lowest bidder could be passed over if the city determined that the business is not “responsible.”

During debate about the ordinance, city public works administrators argued that the extra paperwork wasn’t a burden and would give the city more tools to weed out irresponsible companies.

But Verner said last week that city departments with fewer employees could be overwhelmed by the change.

“This is my desire to have an ordinance that I can implement,” Verner said.

Some City Council members appeared surprised by Verner’s request, and at a meeting last week redirected it to a council committee.

“This ordinance that we passed two weeks ago went through tremendous process,” Councilman Richard Rush said last week. The mayor’s proposal “may have merit, but, initially, I’m pretty hostile to the way this is coming up the process.”

Kate McCaslin, president of the Inland Pacific Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, said Verner’s proposal is a “minor” change but would improve the ordinance. The association argued that adding the requirement on bidders would create unneeded bureaucracy.

Some labor leaders say they are open to Verner’s request, but point to recent violations by a company working on city projects. The state Department of Labor and Industries is investigating alleged prevailing wage violations by Eclipse Traffic Control when the firm worked on Second Avenue reconstruction last year.

Deven Johnson, president of the Eastern Washington-Northern Idaho Building Construction Trades Council, said Verner should consider lowering the proposed threshold to $200,000.

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