Shawn McDonnell, president of the West Central Florida Labor Council, spoke to the city council today to address the union’s concerns about Tampa’s controversial “City Center at Hanna Avenue” project.
McDonnell, who was backed by six other union members as he spoke during public comments, said the union represents more than 100,000 working families in the region and that union leadership is questioning the legality of the city project.
City attorneys for Mayor Jane Castor were asked by council to publicly address the concerns today at the council meeting, but later advised they would not participate via a memo sent to city council on Tuesday. The memo said no laws were violated when the city went ahead with the project.
(See a copy of the memo, as well as Board Chairman Orlando Gudes’ response at the bottom of this article.)
But McDonnell, along with other community leaders and experts, say the process behind the 11-acre project in East Seminole Heights — which will house hundreds of city workers — is riddled with problems the city doesn’t. did not answer.
“It looks like we’re just going to kick the box until this job is done,” McDonnell said. “I’ve been down this road before seeing this happen across the bay, I really don’t know where it’s going.”
When city prosecutors declined to speak to council in the memo, they also told council members they shouldn’t talk about overriding their vote to approve the $108 million project — which was handed over to DPR Construction last year in an untendered contract – citing legal concerns.
“The Consultant’s Competitive Negotiation Act has been followed and there is no legal basis to terminate or rescind the contract award for the Hanna Avenue project,” city attorneys wrote in a memo. on duty. “In addition, the city’s new apprenticeship ordinance applies to this contract, and DPR will comply with this ordinance in the construction of the project.”
The memo said the statement should replace the administration’s legal team making an appearance at the board to discuss the matter.
“I believe that all discussions, except litigation, should be discussed in the sun for the benefit of the public.”
Board Chairman Orlando Gudes then wrote a response asking that the agenda item be postponed until March 17, writing, “I believe that all discussions, except litigation, should be discussed in the sun to the benefit of the public.”
At multiple council meetings and through documents sent to the council, experts claimed the city may have violated Florida law with downtown, which requires competitive public selection of contractors for major projects. of construction, CL reported in January.
DPR was first hired by the city in 2015 for a much smaller project costing around $6.2 million. Last year, council approved an additional $102 million for the DPR to build the downtown project on its own, without a public request for proposals (RFP) process.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the city council was “persuaded by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration” that the cost of the project was worth it at last year’s meeting, and voted unanimously to approve it.
Although city prosecutors dropped the discussion, McDonnell and the families he represents wanted to talk about the project. The union has several issues that still need to be addressed by the city. Their main concern is that the city has hired contractors with an apprenticeship program, which is required by local law, via an ordinance passed unanimously by council last November.
“A contract was awarded to a steel erector who did not have a state-certified apprenticeship program over a contract that had a state-certified apprenticeship program,” McDonnell said. “And we also had nine questions that we would like answered.”
The union submitted a document in February, expressing its concerns about DPR and the Hanna Avenue project. Only one of the union’s nine questions received a response from the city, which McDonnell read aloud to council.
“He said the city and the DPR both say the Hanna Avenue project is subject to the city’s newly enacted learning ordinance and requirements,” he said. “The apprenticeship program is currently being reviewed by city staff to ensure it meets city requirements and will meet the intent of the city’s apprenticeship ordinance before the start of the construction project.
But construction on the site has already begun, and McDonnell and his union said they believe the city is avoiding following the ordinance.
After McDonnell’s speech, city council members took a moment to address the union’s concerns, but were urged to be careful how they speak publicly about the downtown project, as McDonnell’s attorney the city, Gina Grimes, had warned them against it.
In response, Gudes became visibly irritated, saying, “This house is responsible for people’s money. We’re responsible for responding to people, and I get angry over and over again when we just go on eggshells, or try to shove things under the rug.”
Gudes said the council “shouldn’t be afraid of political fallout” for the council to do its job.
Councilman Bill Carlson expressed a similar sentiment, stating, “We are not elected to make anyone politically happy. Our job is to protect the public and to represent it.”
Joe Robinson, a local construction expert who was named in the controversial Rome Yard project in Tampa, also spoke during public comments.
He said a new set of design-build criteria should have been developed by the city before awarding DPR Construction the additional $102 million to complete the entire construction project. He also claimed that the initial contract documents for the 2015 project were “fraudulent” and suggested an advisory legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General on the situation.
Several other speakers during public comments pointed to similar concerns as Robinson and McDonnell, consistently mentioning the need for transparency in the Hanna Avenue project.
Urban League’s Stanley Gray was not on the board today, but told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that his questions about the project went largely unanswered by the city. Councilman Guido Maniscalco was the only person in town who met with Gray to address his concerns.
“I think the city prosecutors are still looking for a solution, probably trying to find answers to some of the questions that I and others still have,” he said.
CL has contacted the city’s director of communications for comment on the demands from the union and construction experts, but has yet to receive a response. This message will be updated if a reply arrives.
A memo from Tampa City attorneys, along with a response from Tampa City Council President Orlando Gudes.
c/o City of Tampa