Protesters ask for ‘fair share’ of jobs in $1.3M courthourse expansion
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org September 10, 2013 7:50PM
Protesting the alleged lack of diversity on a Lake County Courthouse construction site, from left, are Rev. Arthur DeVost, pastor of Mt. Bethel Healing Temple in Waukegan; Willie Ra of Waukegan; and Chris "Brotha" Blanks, founder of the National Action Network of Lake County. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media
The Lake County Courthouse expansion will include three phases:
• Criminal courts tower: a new, nine-story building with 17 new courtrooms at the southwest corner of County and Washington streets.
• Washington Street tunnel: connecting jail and courthouse to provide secure and efficient in-custody transfers and staff access between facilities.
• Remodeling of the Babcox Justice Center’s courts, jail intake, booking and kitchen.
For information on job/bid opportunities related to the planned courthouse expansion, visit www.LakeCountyCourthouseExpansion.com or email info@LakeCountyCourthouseExpansion.com or call (847) 377-4900.
Updated: October 12, 2013 6:24AM
Protesters angry over a lack of minority participation in a $1.3 million county parking lot construction in downtown Waukegan picketed the courthouse on Tuesday.
“There are no women, no blacks and low-to-no local hiring,” Chris “Brotha” Blanks, founder of the National Action Network of Lake County, told members of the Lake County Board at a meeting before the noontime picket. The two-tier parking lot, which will be used by jurors and the sheriff’s office, is on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue between Belvidere and Washington streets.
Blanks called the lack of diversity on the job “hypocrisy,” given the lot’s proximity to the Lake County work release facility, which Blanks said “is bursting at the seams with inmates” who are ordered to seek employment but can’t apply for a job at the site.
Protesters aim to pressure the Lake County Board to ensure minority and female participation in the planned $100 million Lake County courts expansion, a three-phase construction project set to begin late this year and continue through 2017. Bidding begins this fall and extends into 2015.
But County Administrator Barry Burton said the county is subject to state law on public bidding which stipulates that contracts be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. The parking lot is contracted to Copenhaver Construction out of Gilberts in Kane County, a firm that hires union workers “like every other job they’re doing around the Chicagoland area,” Burton said.
Set-asides, or hiring quotas, would be a circumvention of state law, said Burton, who insisted, “We will not do a wink or a nod or anything that goes around state law.”
But Black Chamber of Commerce of Lake County President Rev. Arthur Gass said the county could make an effort to ensure local and minority hiring in another way.
“They can easily ask each respective bidder to show good faith efforts in reaching out to qualified local workers to participate in these projects,” Gass said. “Ask them to supply the names and numbers of agencies and individuals they’ve reached out to. Even union contractors can request that the unions provide them with a diverse workforce.”
Asking for a recruitment strategy in the bid specifications, according to Gass, is legal.
“We’re not telling them to make contractors hire anybody,” he said. “But even contractors ought to have enough morals about themselves to understand that when they come into depressed communities, they can’t wave these dollars around and not employ the people who live there.”
Burton admitted that the county needs “to do a better job of helping people be able to bid.” To that end, it has launched a new “Buy Local. Build Local. Work Local.” initiative aimed at connecting local businesses with procurement opportunities that include an estimated 70 trade-specific bid packages for the courts expansion project. It recently held a seminar on bidding for the expansion. It has created a dedicated Web site: info@LakeCountyCourthouseExpansion.com and its putting business development resources in place to help smaller firms navigate a complex bid process.
“It’s about ensuring that everybody − local, minority and women included − have the information, so they have the opportunity to submit bids for our work,” said Gary Gordon, county finance director.
For the 10 protestors carrying signs in the sweltering heat on Tuesday, talk of bids and contracts and initiatives bore little promise of the employment they say desperate people need now.
“Fifty years after the March on Washington for jobs, here we are still trying to get jobs,” said activist Clyde McLemore, of Zion.