M.O.R.E. Ordinance Approved by Committee
The Milwaukee Opportunities for Restoring Employment ordinance was the primary reason behind this special meeting of the Community & Economic Development Committee. The ordinance intends to increase the required percentage of City of Milwaukee residents hired to work on city projects and development projects receiving more than $1 million in TIF assistance. Additionally it mandated a prevailing wage to be paid for these projects and set a higher Emerging Business Enterprise (EBE ) utilization level as well. The proposed ordinance brought out a large group of both supporters and opponents. Alderman Ashanti Hamilton attempted to frame the discussion early on saying that “there are many people who may come to the table and say this is the wrong time to do something like this” and indicated that he felt the time was right to move on this ordinance. He added that “I submit to you that the price has already been too great”. Alderman Nik Kovac explained that “in the end this is not a philosophical question, it is a practical question” and lent his support saying that “I think we have a document that comes close to being a win win win”. An extensive list of developers and real estate professional spoke in opposition to the ordinance though primarily the development community opposed the ordinance because of the prevailing wage mandate.
Richard Wanta, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association, spoke in opposition of the project saying that “the same city has chased us out of town for decades”. He went on to point out that there is currently only one major water and sewer contractor in the city, so once this passes that contractor is especially likely to get all of the available work in the area because of the new regulations.
Barry Mandel, President of the Mandel Group, pointed to the PERC requirements in the Park East and tied them to the fact that development has been non-existent in the county owned portion of the Park East. He then pointed to The Brewery and The North End projects as two projects that have been moving forward because they utilizing non-prevailing wages.
Greg Uhen, President of Eppstein Uhen Architects, spoke out against the proposed ordinance saying that “my concern is that it will reduce the number of opportunities that come to the city” and that he felt “this is another roadblock, another reason for them not to come”.
The line of members in support of the ordinance were at least as lengthy as those who spoke in opposition of the ordinance. They argued the ordinance would be a a means to improve the City of Milwaukee by putting more residents back to work, and that it would bring equity to hiring standards.
Shelia Cochran, Secretary-Treasurer of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, said some of the comments regarding the prevailing wage requirements were “appalling” and went on to say “why in this day and time has it become fashionable that a black man’s labor is worth less than a white man’s labor” which riled up the audience and prompted Alderman Davis to respond “you have one minute left to continue to chastise them”.
Former Mayor Marvin Pratt explained that he is working with a development group that will adhere to these rules in the Park East, implying that if his group can make the PERC requirements work then other developers can get by with the MORE requirements. He also spoke of his efforts in the past related to improving minority hiring practices and requested the Common Council “do away with gradualism” and approve this ordinance right away.
Lyle Balistreri, President Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council, explained that within the trades there is currently 20 – 25% unemployment and expressed his support for the ordinance saying “it’s a great ordinance”.
Pam Fendt, of the Good Jobs Livable Neighborhoods Coalition, argued that there really is no conflict between paying prevailing wages and increasing the hiring of minority workers.
After the public hearing the ordinance was taken in to committee for debate and an eventual vote.
Alderman Willie Wade spoke forcibly in support of the ordinance saying that “this is a highly emotional issue” but that “we’re here to fix something that’s not working”. He appeared to speak directly to the development community saying that “it only applies to you if you take city money” and that “there are too many people getting rich off Milwaukee”.
Alderman Terry Witkowski referenced a letter from the city comptroller indicating that the comptroller believed this ordinance would cause projects to be lost to other cities. He then went on to say that “I have grave reservation as to [this ordinance] hurting the City of Milwaukee more than helping it”.
Alderman Jim Witkowiak expressed his opposition to the ordinance stating “as this ordinance is written today I can not support it, mostly because of the prevailing wage”. He explained that many Hispanic owned contracting companies from his district had contacted him and indicated that this ordinance would hurt their business. It was clear from his statements that the primary concern was over the prevailing wage requirements but otherwise he felt “we’re real close and that it could be great for the City of Milwaukee”.
Alderman Joe Davis, who had ran a very tight meeting, by cutting off all speakers after just a couple of minutes regardless of if they were praying, or attempting to make a point, said that this ordinance was “about equity”. Further he went on to defend the prevailing wage requirements say that “you’re looking at a Chairman who actually benefited from a prevailing wage”.
This ordinance was approved on a 3 to 2 vote and will now go before the full Common Council.