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Holyoke councilors say no to responsible employer ordinance

from The Republican,
Published: Thursday, October 07, 2010, 5:10 PM

HOLYOKE – The City Council has rejected a proposal for a so-called responsible employer ordinance because of concerns that requirements in the law would thwart big projects and invite a lawsuit.

Requirements that a certain number of jobs on a municipal building project go to city residents, unionized workers, women and minorities, could scare away contractors and undermine the intent to help the city, they said.

Another part of such an ordinance would require establishment of apprenticeship training in the building trades while projects are ongoing.

“It scares me,” Councilor at Large James M. Leahy said, on Tuesday at City Hall.

But Councilor at Large Rebecca Lisi, who proposed the measure with Ward 4 Councilor Timothy W. Purington, said the city by dismissing the proposal has missed a chance to help Holyokers.

“I think it’s exactly because we have these new projects coming in that we should have this ordinance,” Lisi said.

The city is planning to build a new library for $15 million and a senior center for $8.1 million.

The largest project in the works here, a $168 million high performance computing center set for the canal area, is mostly private-funded and would fall outside such an ordinance.

The Ordinance Committee voted 3-2 to recommend the full council withdraw the proposal, and the City Council adopted that by voice vote.

Councilors said among their concerns was an Aug. 16 letter from a law firm representing the Utility Contractors Association of New England Inc., whose Web site says it is a Quincy-based trade association comprised of over 250 major contractors and associated business.

Lawyer Richard D. Wayne, of HinckleyAllenSnyder, of Boston, warned in the letter to City Solicitor Lisa A. Ball that the association has challenged responsible employer ordinances in other communities and would do so with Holyoke’s.

Kara Lamb Cunha, second assistant city solicitor, advised in a Sept. 28 opinion that the council avoid adopting a responsible employer ordinance. The Utility Contractors Association is challenging Fall River’s ordinance and resolution of that case might address issues with Holyoke’s proposal, she wrote.

Lisi said, “We shouldn’t allow this city to be bullied because of our reputation as one of the poorest cities in the commonwealth.”

“I just think it’s the wrong timing,” Councilor at Large Patricia C. Devine said.

Purington was absent.

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