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Monday, November 30, 2020

Why didn’t mayor’s top Black appointees push to track spending with Black-owned businesses

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The city has “no records responsive to your request.”

That legalistic sentence answered my effort to get the City of Indianapolis to answer a simple question.

Chief Deputy Corporation Counsel Andrea Newsom maintains the city has no record of how much was spent with Black, Hispanic and Asian-owned businesses since 2008. Even though the city tracked and knows how much was spent with women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

The city’s denial further damages Mayor Greg Ballard whose administration is rivaling Richard Nixon’s for stonewalling, secrecy and incredible credibility.

But there’s a larger question.

Why doesn’t Mayor Ballard and his administration want anyone to know how much in city contracts have really gone to businesses of the city’s three largest minority communities?

When Carlos May, now 7th District congressional candidate, was Ballard’s director of Latino affairs, he never asked for an accounting of how much was being spent with his community’s businesses?

Same question for the mayor’s top African-American officials.

As a longtime community leader, Christamore House director and self proclaimed “Mayor of Haughville USA,” Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams understands the importance of nurturing and developing successful Black-owned businesses.

So, why didn’t Williams insure the city was tracking how well it was granting contracts to Black-owned businesses?

Was the view from the City-County Building’s 25th floor so blinding that Williams forgot that making sure Black-owned businesses flourish helps strengthen the neighborhoods Williams is responsible for?

Then there’s the mayor’s visible cheerleader for minority business, Greg Wilson, who runs the Office of Minority Business.

When Ballard ran for mayor in 2007, Wilson was one of Ballard’s few Black supporters. Wilson recounted that then Mayor Bart Peterson wasn’t spending money with Black-owned businesses like Wilson felt he should.

Wilson told all who’d listen that if Ballard was elected he’d dramatically increase spending with Black-owned businesses.

After Ballard’s election, now as head of the city’s MBE efforts, Wilson constantly bragged how much the city was doing, not just for minority business, but specifically for Black businesses.

So why didn’t Wilson make sure the city tracked how contracts were granted to Black-owned businesses?

Maybe Wilson was too busy with his lobbying to become Black Expo’s new board chair.

(Note: If IBE’s head-in-the-sand, out-of-touch, clueless board makes Greg Wilson their next chair, they might as well stick the fork in the organization because it’ll be done.)

As I was preparing this week’s column, I stumbled upon perhaps the reason(s) why the city’s going all out not to reveal how much they’ve spent with specific types of minority-owned businesses.

I downloaded the State of Indiana’s database of certified minority-owned and women-owned businesses. The database is very detailed and includes the classification for the race and/or ethnicity of the 51 percent-plus owners of those certified businesses. Of course, those Indiana certified businesses are also certified by the City of Indianapolis.

The state’s minority business database contains at least 592 African-American-owned businesses – from all around the state, but mostly from here in Indianapolis.

Examining the database, I noticed a few weird things.

An alleged minority-owned business which touts on its website that it is “a minority owned company whose combined heritage goes back over 80 years” is nowhere to be found on the roster.

I found another major business, that has received tens of millions in city contracts, certified as a minority-owned business. But the owner’s race/ethnicity is listed as “Other.”

To my knowledge, the owner of this major contracting and developer business is not African-American, not Asian, not Hispanic, not any race or ethnicity delineated by the federal government or Indiana state government qualified to be a certified minority business enterprise.

Meanwhile, I’ve made a new public records request of the city. A complete breakdown of all contracts the city used to compute that $500 million spent with minority business figure. We’ve requested info on the company, its owner, amount of contracts, who awarded the contract and whether the business is certified as an MBE, WBE or VBE.

I don’t expect lots of cooperation from the Ballard/Nixon administration. And we’ll keep digging on oddities in state/city minority business certifications.

Stay tuned.

What I’m hearing

in the streets

Unlike four years ago when Black media were welcomed to Obama campaign events, this newspaper and other Black media were excluded from Michelle Obama’s fundraiser.

Shame that the local folks organizing the fundraiser didn’t bother to protest the exclusion of Black media.

It’s time the party understands the president’s millions aren’t coming to Indiana to rescue Democrats. It’s time Indiana Democrats buck up, step up and get out and fire voters up!

The IPS School Board election, for the first time this fall, originally shaped up to be a hot bed for candidates and activity with the driving issue being the retention of Superintendent Dr. Eugene White. That’s not been the case. A few candidates have filed all unknown to the community.

Until now. The entry into the IPS at-large race of former Methodist/IU Health exec Sam Odle promises to breathe some passion into a race that was starting to be unimaginative. We’ll see. See ya next week!

You can email comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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