Some very hard-ball politics is going to be played at City Hall over the next few weeks.
At stake is a $100 million pie, and local contractors and unions want to cut that pie and eat it by themselves and not let out-of-town contractors and workers get their utensils in it.
Maybe you saw KC Star reporter Lynn Horsley’s story on Saturday about this high-stakes squabble. The job in question is the streetcar line from the River Market to near Union Station.
The Kansas City Public Works Department has chosen a non-local and non-union team — Herzog Contracting Co. of St. Joseph and rail contractor Stacy and Witbeck of California — to build the line. Making the selection, Horsley said, was a group “made up primarily of pubic works engineers and transit representatives.”
The Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City (contractors) and the Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council (union workers) greeted the selection with howls of protest, prompting several City Council members to react as if they had touched a live power line.
“I’m not convinced they’ve actually picked the lowest and best bidder,” said Councilman John Sharp, a longtime friend of organized labor.
“The scoring criteria (in the bidding process) seems to be backward,” said Councilman Ed Ford of the Northland, a pro-labor area.
The two other teams champing at the bit to get the bid include a couple of local construction titans — Clarkson Construction and JE Dunn Construction.
Clarkson, which does virtually all the highway construction in the Kansas City area (on both sides of the state line), teamed up with Kiewit Corp., a nationwide firm with dozens of local and district offices around the country.
The third bidder was Dunn, which is known mostly for constructing buildings.
Based on Dunn’s lack of significant experience on roads, rails and streetcars, it would seem that the biggest threat to the Herzog/Stacy-Witbeck team is Kiewit-Clarkson.
Against that backdrop, the important thing to note here is that the decision has now passed from the hands of the bureaucrats to those of the politicians. The City Council will award the contract.
And no one will have a bigger say in this than Mayor Sly James.
Out front, his voice has been measured…He was quoted in Horsley’s story as saying:
“I think we really have to be careful that every time there’s a contract let and it doesn’t appease somebody that we go back and find a way to redo it so that it does appease them.”
If you read that carefully — and those were the exact words that appeared in Horsley’s story — you could conclude one of two things: He doesn’t want to be in the appeasement business or…he does. Note that he did not say that the city has to be careful “that we don’t go back and find a way to redo it…” Maybe that was just a verbal misconstruction, or maybe he was leaving the door open precisely for a “redo.”
When confronted with a situation like this — and looking ahead to what might unfold — experience tells me one thing: Look at the campaign contribution reports.
So, I looked at all of James’ reports last night, and here’s what I found.
:: Members of the Dunn family have contributed $2,600 to James’ campaign committee since January of 2011, the year James was elected.
:: Members of the Clarkson family have not contributed at all, to the best of my knowledge. That doesn’t mean they haven’t given in some fashion, or through friends and associates; I just didn’t find the Clarkson name in any of the reports. And there are several Clarksons, including William E. Clarkson Sr. and William E. (Billy) Clarkson Jr.
:: That brings us to the Heavy Constructors Association and the unions.
** The constructors association, one of the main complainants about the Herzog/Stacy-Witbeck selection, gave James $3,000 — the maximum contribution — a few weeks before the March 2011 general election, in which James defeated former Councilman Mike Burke.
** Operating Engineers Local 101 also contributed $3,000.
** Laborers Local Union No. 264 gave $2,000.
** Heavy Construction Laborers Union Local 663 gave $500.
That’s a total of $8,500 from the constructors association and three key unions.
To me, the evidence points to Kiewit-Clarkson as the team most likely to get the job.
Clarkson is a sixth-generation Kansas City company, and they pay union wages. Kiewit is a nationwide powerhouse, with a district office in Lenexa.
Lenexa, as we all know, sucks…But it’s close enough.