Contractors Welcome New Form

February 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Five new sections have been added to the city’s Application for Prequalification, a form that must be completed by contracting companies that have hopes of being awarded a publicly funded project.

City commissioners added the questions to the new form, which went into effect last month, after hearing a report on responsible contracting last summer and then putting together a working group of industry representatives and city staffers last fall. The rest of the application remained the same as last year’s.

“The changes to the prequalification application aren’t great changes, just things that give us a little more information about contractors,” said Dianette Hight, engineering services administrator for the city.

“We haven’t had much of a negative response from the larger contractors,” she added.

But Hight said a few weren’t clear as to what was being asked of them in Sections 8-12, where the new questions are grouped. The biggest stumper was asking a firm to submit a copy of its drug-free workplace policy. Some smaller contractors and subcontractors don’t have one. But the city offers such a policy that contractors can incorporate into their own at its Web site on the engineering department’s page.

“That was our intent. We went from the whole gamut of having recommended to us that they have quarterly drug testing of ‘X’ percent of their employees, and all of their employees had to have drug testing, and we were requiring that they all had to have proof of that. And then we thought, ‘Wait a minute, that may be a little onerous on some small and emerging businesses,’” said Hight.

“What they should have to do is comply with the federal law. The federal law is real clear to me as to what needs to be in place, and that’s what we tried to incorporate into that policy. The city’s is based on the federal act. They can look at ours and see what they need to have.”

Hight also said there has been some confusion about the section on apprenticeship programs, especially for contractors that specialize in underground work.

“Quite a bit of the work that we do — ‘we’ meaning the engineering department and the city of Grand Rapids — is the municipal types of jobs that involve underground work, wastewater and water treatment facilities. And most of those types of fields do not have apprenticeships within those areas,” she said.

Some underground contractors asked whether they would have to start these programs in order to do business with the city. Hight said the city had to clarify that it wasn’t requiring them to do that, but was inquiring if such a program was already in place. If so, then a firm had to explain the areas the training is in, whether the program had been approved by the U.S. Department of Labor, and how many individuals were participating in the training.

“But other than that, it’s our same operation and it has gone OK,” said Hight.

Besides a drug-free policy and apprenticeship programs, the new sections ask a firm to: list its workers’ compensation insurance experience modification rate for the last three years; list all civil suits, arbitrations, and criminal convictions it has had over the past five years; and name other training programs, outside of apprenticeships, that it provides workers.

Those changes emerged from a report that Ed Haynor, a consultant to the West Michigan Construction Alliance, gave to commissioners on behalf of the Michigan Association of Responsible Contracting last July. That report led commissioners to establish the work group in November. Then they ratified the changes to the application after reviewing the group’s recommendations.

Haynor told commissioners last summer that he thought the city did a pretty good job at qualifying contractors through its policy, which was last updated in 2003. For example, he noted that the city bans a contractor from working on a public project if that firm owes the city money. But he also told commissioners the city could do a better job of screening if it captured more historic data about a company.

“What they don’t do is they don’t look at the track records of companies to find out if companies are typically being sued by people for not performing,” said Haynor. “If you’ve got contractors coming before you in the prequalification process and they’re being sued a lot, I think there could be indications that maybe they’re not a very good company.”

Joining Haynor in the work group were Dick Brunvand, Michigan Chapter of Associated General Contractors of America; John Doherty, Associated Builders and Contractors, West Michigan Chapter; Decarto Draper, Big Masonry and Concrete; and Sean Egan, business agent for Local 275, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Hight said from 350 to 375 contractors and subs fill out a prequalification application with the city each year, and these firms have to file one every year.

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