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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Contractor rules OK’d

Council votes 5-2 on system aimed at reducing bad work

Contractors who perform shoddy work or violate the law can be barred from bidding on city work for up to two years under a new law approved Monday by the Spokane City Council. 

The rules, proposed by City Councilwoman Amber Waldref and backed by labor groups, also will require low bidders – the assumed winners of city contracts – to complete a questionnaire about the company’s compliance with safety, labor, environmental, discrimination and other rules. The second-lowest bidder could be selected if the city determined the lowest bidder is not “responsible.”

After three hours of debate and amendments, the council voted 5-2 in favor of the rules. City Council members Nancy McLaughlin and Bob Apple cast the dissenting votes.

Supporters say the rules protect taxpayers from having to use contractors that consistently violate the law or perform substandard work.

The rules are “just ensuring that we get the best possible return for the citizens’ money,” Councilman Jon Snyder said.

Opponents argue that the rules add a burden on contractors that could jack up prices.

Gary Schimmels Jr., president of Schimmels Construction, told the council that current city and state law already provides the city substantial protection against bad work. He said he’s concerned that the rules could be “manipulated based on a self-interest.”

He added that he won’t bid as aggressively on city contracts under the new rules.

“Now I don’t know where the finish line is,” he said.

Pete Cropper, compliance investigator for Rebound, a coalition of trade unions, said the law will help “honest contractors” that are “underbid by contractors who violate the law.”

Cropper said that 25 citations for operating without a license were issued to contractors who performed work for the city of Spokane in 2010. He added that the state Department of Labor and Industries had to collect about $279,000 in unpaid wages for 73 workers employed by companies hired by the city to perform work.

“That’s quite a bit of money for not having a problem,” said Cropper, responding to arguments that the law is unnecessary.

Much of the debate on Monday focused on a substitute version of the rules submitted by the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., which represents about 250 contractors in the region. The association opposed the disqualification rules but backed giving the city the ability to prohibit contractors that performed deficient work from bidding on city projects for up to two years.

Councilman Bob Apple criticized moving forward on a vote after making so many changes to the rules during Monday’s hearing.

“I watched the spaghetti being made and I don’t like it,” said Apple, a former roofing contractor. “The real point of this is we have not had a problem with contractors in Spokane, or if we did they were minor.”

Kate McCaslin, who leads the contractors’ group, asked the council to consider the amendments if they moved ahead with the disqualification rules. Many of the groups’ requests were accepted by the council in unanimous votes.

McCaslin, a former Spokane County commissioner, said her group’s goal was for fair rules that are “objective and measurable and less subjective” and leave less discretion for administrators.

“Frankly, there’s a lot of debate between an agency and a contractor about whether that contractor has performed or not,” she said.

City administrators say the rules will give them tools to help skip over irresponsible bidders.

Mayor Mary Verner has indicated that she will sign the ordinance.

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