Threat of lost jobs can't sway council, members say

Threat of lost jobs can't sway council, members say

February 22nd, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News


The City Council may vote on a resolution tonight to authorize a contract for more than $400,000 of work to fix the Wilcox Tunnel temporarily. Councilman Russell Gilbert said he plans to ask to defer the motion.


Residents of Wilcox Tunnel area will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. March 17 at the Brainerd Recreation Center to discuss the tunnel. Mayor Ron Littlefield is expected to attend. The center is at 1010 N. Moore Road.

The possibility of lost jobs and layoffs if a temporary fix for the Wilcox Tunnel is scrapped is not a good reason for the City Council to endorse the repairs, several council members said Monday.

Councilman Russell Gilbert, who represents the area around the tunnel, said Monday that the bottom line is taking care of taxpayer money.

"We need to spend it wisely," he said.

Last week, the council had an in-depth discussion on a proposal to either fix temporarily Wilcox Tunnel, the first tunnel built through Missionary Ridge, or expand it into a four-lane tunnel. Mayor Ron Littlefield told council members he supported expansion and said the time has come to stop looking at temporary fixes.

But some local contractors who had been hired to do the temporary work said they were blindsided last week by the mayor's idea. It could mean a loss of jobs, they said.

The council plans to vote tonight on whether to make repairs or plan expansion of the tunnel built in 1928. Gilbert said he plans to ask that the resolution for a temporary fix be deferred for a month until he meets with constituents in March.

Calvin Ball, vice president of Tower Construction Co., said he put in the bid for the work. The city expected to pay about $415,000 for the work, and Ball said he planned to have a three-man crew work on the project.

Without the work, his company is in a bind, he said.

"We're going to have to lay off one of those guys, if not two," he said. "They are going to have to go home."

James Moore, a partner in McGill Steel, said his firm was being hired as a subcontractor for the project. But losing the work could mean layoffs for the six-man crew he planned to put on the job.

"It's possible," he said.

Gilbert said he thought the $400,000 price tag for the temporary work was too high anyway. Why does the city have to contract out some of the fixes, and why can't city workers do the work, he asked.

Councilman Peter Murphy said Monday he felt bad that some people could lose their jobs. But it's not the government's responsibility to prop up work for contractors, he said.

Aiding needy causes such as providing work for the mentally disabled at the Orange Grove Center is one thing, but getting involved in private businesses is another, he said.

"I don't think local government should be in the jobs business," he said.