Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg delays vote on local hiring ordinance at mayor's urging

ST. PETERSBURG — At the urging of Mayor Bill Foster, the City Council delayed moving forward with a new law to make construction firms hire local workers on big-ticket projects.

The law would have forced firms to hire Pinellas County residents for 25 percent of the hours on taxpayer-funded projects that cost $2 million or more.

The council voted 6-2 on Thursday to table the proposal. Council members Wengay Newton and Steve Kornell voted no.

City staffers will now hold workshops in 20 days with construction firms, apprentice programs and others interested in developing a new proposal.

Foster supports that approach.

The proposed requirements, Foster said, could have deterred firms from bidding on projects and burdened taxpayers with higher construction costs.

"This is not what I had in mind," Foster said about his early visions of a hiring law.

Michael Connors, public works administrator, said the best policies aren't made when members of a special interest group pack council chambers, referring to the local advocacy group FAST, which pushed for the measure.

The city, Connors said, might need one or two new staff members to monitor contractors' payroll records on each $2 million project.

"The administration of this ordinance would be very, very arduous and cost money," he said.

Contractors would have also been required to hire apprentices from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco or Manatee counties for another 20 percent of work hours.

The proposal had been in the works for more than a year and is being pushed by Faith and Action for Strength Together, or FAST, an interfaith social justice group made up of 38 houses of worship in Pinellas County.

Critics contend the law would reduce competition, produce lower-quality work and drive up prices.

Supporters of the ordinance asked the council Thursday to go a step further by requiring contractors to hire ex-offenders for 10 percent of the hours on projects.

But Steve Cona Jr., an official with the Associated Builders and Contractors, said ex-offenders might not be able to pass stringent background checks on projects at schools, police stations or airports.

He urged the council to make the proposal a good-faith effort, adding: "We're not opposed to giving second chances to individuals."

Council member Jeff Danner, a longtime member of the construction industry, said city construction projects represent only a small portion of all projects in the region. The hiring law, he said, would not help residents land jobs on upcoming apartment buildings or at hospitals.

He said he wants to focus more on apprenticeship programs, adding: "We need to think bigger and better."

But John Dehmel, a representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the legislation would give residents more opportunities to better their lives.

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