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For more than a year, the City’s Minority- Women- and Evanston-Based Enterprises (MWEBE) Committee has been working to find a way to put some teeth into the City’s local employment program (LEP). The LEP requires contractors working on City projects to hire a certain number of Evanston residents for such projects. It appears that

MWEBE Committee members will now return to the drawing board. On June 9, City Council kicked the proposed amendments to LEP back to the Committee for further review.

Over the past several years, some contractors have been ignoring the City’s requirement to hire a certain number of Evanston residents and have been either paying the modest fine of $100 per day for violations or going unpunished entirely. The MWEBE Committee sought to make changes that would “drive compliance,” the Committee’s chair, Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite, has repeatedly said. The goal is not to collect fines but to get Evanston residents working, he has said.

With that goal in mind, the Committee recommended changing the penalty from $100 per day to 3% of the project’s total contract value. In a rare procedural move, the measure was held at the Council level on the recommendation of City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

While the measure was being held, Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons convened a conference call with contractors who in the past completed City projects to get their input about the proposed changes to the program. Seven firms participated.

Concerns raised included safety and technical training of employees working on such jobs. A list of pre-qualified Evanston residents, including their training and experience, would help alleviate that concern, contractors said.

Contractors also said they would have to lay off or idle current non-resident employees in order to hire Evanston residents. At least one firm said that union rules would make doing so impossible.

Most agreed that larger projects presented more and easier opportunities to comply with Evanston’s LEP. They also said the City should place more emphasis on the LEP project at pre-bid meetings. There was no consensus as to whether the program resulted in higher bids.

The contractors also came up with new ideas for the MWEBE committee to consider, such as a “waiver discount” allowing firms to deposit 3% of a project value into a job training program targeted at Evanston residents – calling it a “discount” and not a penalty, in essence.

The contractors have given the MWEBE much to consider in a future amended ordinance.