Saline Adopting Contract Transparency

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How does a municipal government know if a company that they are contracting with to do any job is honest and will do what they are asked, on budget and on time? It can be a guessing game on how good of a job a contractor that the city isn’t familiar with will do sometimes, except now the City of Saline is taking steps to make the expectations and reputations of contractors who bid on city jobs clearer and more standardized.

Saline’s City Council passed a “responsible contractor policy” last week, which established “minimum standards relating to contractor responsibility and transparency, including requirements and criteria concerning technical qualifications, competency, experience, adequacy of resources, … satisfactory records regarding past project performance, safety, law compliance and business integrity.”

“The responsible contractor policy will basically be a tag on to any of our future construction tagging projects. So, when we go out and bid for a street, sewer or water project, we [will] make sure that individual contractors are submitting clear intent of their capacity to execute a project, their past performance on similar projects, and any other potential red flags that might exist,” City Manager Colleen O’Toole said. “Right now, municipalities have a habit of just accepting the lowest bid of what comes in. That doesn’t always result in the highest caliber work. This gives us a little bit more in terms of qualification standards, other than just pure price level.”

According to the resolution, any contractor bidding on a project costing $100,000 or more will be required to go through pre-qualifying screening, subcontractor compliance checks and a bid evaluation; assessing workplace safety, workforce development and social equity.

The policy includes an enforcement mechanism; but O’Toole said that a subsequent motion to add teeth to the enforcement of this new policy will be introduced in the next city council meeting next week.

“The responsible contracting policy … will create a level playing field for all bidders that are going to be looking to be doing business with the city in the construction realm, and make sure that all bidders have that transparent playing field,” Robert Joerg, a representative of the Michigan District Laborer’s Council, a statewide outfit that operates as a parent organization for seven different unions, said. Joerg said he was confident that this resolution would weed out “unscrupulous” bidders by making training, pay and safety practices more transparent. “And of course, the city knows that they are paying their taxes, they haven’t had any environmental issues, and that they haven’t had any legal issues. All of this information will help city staff … because the contractors will have to provide that information to be considered to bid.”

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