The year-long effort by the City’s Minority, Women and Evanston-Based Employer (MWEBE) Committee to put some stronger teeth into the City’s ordinance that requires contractors performing City construction contracts to hire Evanston residents was temporarily halted at the May 27 City Council meeting when Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson asked that the measure be held. He asked that the City study alternatives such as the program used in Tacoma, Washington, and consult some of the City’s regular contractors before acting.

Ald. Wilson’s hold was the second for the proposal, following a rare hold initiated by the City Manager two weeks ago.

The effort to change the local employment program (LEP) arose from a pattern of noncompliance that has developed. Both City Staff and members of Council have noted a low level of compliance, and in at least one instance a contractor appeared almost eager to pay the $100 per day fine rather than expend any effort to try and hire an Evanston resident. Low compliance and a willingness to pay a fine led the MWEBE Committee to believe that the penalty clause within the LEP ordinance was not strong enough to incentivize contractors.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, has repeatedly said that compliance with the hiring provisions, not the collection of fines, is the ultimate goal. Clearly, he and others have said, the current program is not working to drive compliance. The suggested changes would increase the fine from $100 per day to 3% of the total value of the project, a significant increase.

“I am cognizant of the fact that we need to make changes to the program,” said Ald. Wilson. “We need to bring contractors in [and] ask them why they’re not hiring Evanston employees.” He referenced the program in Tacoma, which he said worked without levying large fines on contractors.

Although City Council members did not discuss amending the proposal, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz provided a memo to Council suggesting a change in the penalty provision from the proposed 3% of the project’s total value to 1% of the value. His memo suggests that a sharp increase in the penalty may result in less-competitive bids for City projects and, as a result, higher construction costs.

Like Ald. Wilson, the memo recommends that “the City meet with local contractors to … get their feedback on how best to meet the City’s local employment goals.”

The proposed ordinance will be held pending discussions with contractors – and perhaps the implementation of a tool more creative than penalty fines that will drive compliance. Everyone agrees that it is in the City’s best interest to employ as many Evanston residents as possible on City projects. And there appears to be a general consensus that the current LEP ordinance is not accomplishing that goal.