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Cincinnati Council may repeal responsible bidder Wednesday

Sarah Ramsey

Cincinnati and Hamilton County have been locked in a battle for more than six months about the bidding rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) construction projects. 

The county created and owns the sewer district, so it argues state and federal procurement guidelines must be used.  But Cincinnati says since it operates MSD, and the city's bidding procedures must be followed. 

The issue came to a head when city council approved a responsible bidder ordinance in May. It requires companies bidding on contracts for more than $400,000 to have an apprenticeship program to train future construction workers. 

Now a Council majority may be ready to repeal that law.  Member Christopher Smitherman said he is trying to resolve the conflict between the city and county.

"By repealing the responsible bidder ordinance," Smitherman said.  "And hitting a reset and then going and having conversations with the owners and see if we can work out something."

Smitherman said he is concerned continued construction delays could cost the city and county millions of dollars in fines from the federal government.  MSD must rebuild most of the sewer system as part of a court monitored consent decree.

The Hamilton County Commissioners must approve MSD construction projects, and they are only willing to pay for the work that is bid using state and federal guidelines.  That has stopped some work required by the federal consent decree. 

Council Member Chris Seelbach, who supported responsible bidder, said it is about choices.

"Do we think the status quo is working and that local people will probably get these jobs and the job training that comes with it to have successful careers," Seelbach said.  "Or do we think that the status quo needs to change because not enough people in Cincinnati are getting good paying jobs."

Seelbach said the city has been working with the county to make changes.  He said Cincinnati has made seven major compromises, and the county has agreed to one.

Seelbach said responsible bidder is about making sure contractors getting huge MSD contracts are investing in job training and creating employment for local residents.

The impasse has left MSD Director Tony Parrot stuck in the middle.  He reports to the city manager, but relies on the county commission for funding.
"It's kind of a catch-22 for us," Parrott said.  "We're ready to do our job, we're ready to do work.  We need policy direction to be able to move forward and comply with the consent decree."

Right now there are likely four city council members willing to repeal the ordinance.  It will take one more for that effort to be successful.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.