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Friday, May 7, 2021

I’m Just Sayin’: Positive change happening in MWBE program

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The city’s Minority and Women Business Development program just underwent a major overhaul and Black businesses should benefit.

A recently completed disparity study by the city found that Black businesses were underutilized. I should note that we hadn’t had a disparity study for well over a decade; so while the findings were predictable, the point was that we had to have a study in order to formally create the impetus for significant improvement of the program.

The mechanics of government can be frustrating at times, but there are reasons why things happen the way that they do.

As a former MWBE program administrator for both a large urban project and the Super Bowl Host Committee, I have some experience with the challenges with these kinds of program.  

One of the biggest problems with public works projects has been the challenge of enforcing compliance. Essentially, a construction management team would have to leverage their social capital to enforce compliance — and that only made sense if the project owner or owner’s representatives signaled that they were going to enforce a supplier diversity program.

MWBE program managers conceptually could only enforce a program as far as the construction management team and owner’s representatives were willing to go. I was lucky in both of my experiences to have strong support from the top in both my experience running an MWBE program for a large urban project and with the Super Bowl Host Committee.

It is no secret that the city has struggled with MWBE participation — particularly in the early years of the first term of the Hogsett administration.

And there are still calls for the disaggregation of data by race, so we don’t have to wait years to see what is happening to Black businesses in this city.

But when there is improvement, I think it’s important to acknowledge progress.

The city made a major improvement in their supplier diversity program.

For starters they have clarified and enhanced the documentation needed to show what’s called a “good faith effort” in trying to identify MWBE businesses. Contractors seeking a waiver to not comply with city MWBE project goals are supposed to provide documentation showing what they did to try and get an MWBE contractor. One key provision that stands out is whether or not a prime contractor developed a scope that might be doable for an MWBE in the market.

There is also a provision that calls for evidence of a joint venture where the prime contractor partners with an MWBE or Black business to do the work. There is some risk of abuse with this provision, but it also could be a real breakthrough opportunity for Black businesses starting out.

The new ordinance also strengthens the ability of the Office of Minority and Women Business Development to enforce prompt payment and break up teaming practices were a prime contractor exerts coercive influence over a subcontractor.

The new ordinance also calls for a disparity study every five years.  

But perhaps the most significant aspect of the new ordinance is the use of a five-letter word — shall.

When discussing the correction of deficiencies, or when a prime contractor is not in compliance with the city’s supplier diversity program, the Office of Minority Women Business Development is now empowered to withhold payment, disbar a contractor from participating in future bids or terminate an agreement.

The city just gave some teeth to their supplier diversity program. While these provisions have been available for some time, the use of the word “shall” and the ostensible positioning of the Office of Minority and Women Business Development in city contracts moving forward is a leap forward in compliance efforts.

Director Camille Blunt has made her mark on the city’s program. I think she should enjoy a special pride in this most recent accomplishment as frustrated community leaders maligned her on some occasions during the last election. Black women remain unprotected.

While there is always room for improvement — and there will always be critics — between the ordinance and the increased transparency on the numbers (visit this link to see the 2019 utilization numbers broken down by agency and XBE category). Again, Blunt has made her mark.

What I’m hearing …

I’m hearing that there has been some discussion about naming a street or a building after Frank Anderson, the first Black Sheriff of Marion County. It is possible that the naming may involve the new criminal justice complex or a street leading to the facility — or something else. The naming of streets and buildings after Black people isn’t a frequent occurrence in this city — Sheriff Frank Anderson is deserving of this honor.  

See you next week …

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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