UPDATE: City Council Committee Votes in Favor of Revised Minority Business Law

Categories: City Council

hispanic_business_rally.jpg
Jason Lewis/Village Voice
UPDATE: Some minority business-owners still upset over low participation goals for Hispanic construction firms.
The amended Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise bill is headed to the Mayor's Office after the city council voted 45 to 2 yesterday in favor of the measure.

Among several improvements, the amended Intro-911-A bill lifts the $1 million cap on M/WBE contracts and implements additional accountability measures in an attempt to better ensure M/WBE goals are being met.

"If we have faith in MWBE's, then we should say 'bid on every contract, the sky's the limit,' most of the city contracts are over $1 million.This bill raises that cap," Council Speaker Christine Quinn said at yesterday's vote. "We don't want to just pass a bill today saying we've raised the goals for MWBE participation, we've opened it up to all of the contracts...We need it to happen."

Councilman Charles Barron, who voted against the bill, raised concerns similar to those that other critics have raised about the lowered goals for minority construction firms.

"Any bill that reduces the goal for black companies from 12 to 8 percent, reduces the goal for Latino companies from 9 percent to 4 percent, is not a bill that I would want to support," Barron said.

Barron dismissed the notion that the smaller pool of black and Latino-owned firms eligible to procure contracts with city justifies lowered goals. He cited the fact that for years many black and Latino firms were eligible to work but simply weren't getting the contracts.

"The cap was removed, and that's a good thing, for over a [$1 million]," Barron said. "But, if you're not getting the contracts at $1 million and below, how many contracts [do] you think you're going to get at [$5 million, $10 million, $15 million] and $20 million? Let's be real."

While Councilman Jumaane Williams voted in favor of the legislation, he urged the council to take a closer look at the disparity study that serves as the basis for the updated procurement goals found in Intro-911-A. The city hired private consulting firm Miller3 Consulting Inc. to conduct the study in 2006.

"It fundamentally came down to whether you believe the [disparity] study or do you not believe the [disparity study]. I don't know that I have enough to not believe it," Williams said. "I do believe that we have to some independent studies to make sure this [disparity] study is correct."

The Mayor's Office is expected to sign off on the legislation, and it should go into effect July 1, 2013.

The City Council's Committee on Contracts voted unanimously yesterday to revise a law passed in 2005 aimed at helping minority and women-owned businesses secure contracts with city agencies.

The committee voted in favor of the proposed Intro-911-A bill -- which is a revised version of the Local Law 129 legislation passed in 2005. Local Law 129 established the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise program.

The revised bill includes adjustments to procurement goals for the various minority groups involved in the program. The procurement goals were calculated for each demographic based on the number of firms eligible to do work in a given sector for the city versus the number of firms the city actually chooses to contract with.

As we previously reported, members of the Hispanic business community expressed outrage that the revised bill would lower procurement goals for Hispanic-owned construction firms -- from about 9 percent of city contracts to 4 percent.

"These are not firm numbers in terms of the percentages," said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who voted in favor of the bill yesterday. "They are aspirational. Obviously our interest would be with our sector and within our communities to encourage greater numbers than those that are prescribed in the legislation."

Critics were also upset to learn that while procurement goals for certain demographics fell -- white women-owned firms, which were assigned no procurement goals in construction under the original terms of Local Law 129 -- were given an 18 percent goal in Intro-911.

That 18 percent goal has since been amended to include all women. Minority female business owners will have to choose to classify their firms as either woman-owned or minority-owned.

Procurement goals for African-American firms decreased from nearly 13 percent to 8 percent, and Asian-American firms went from no goal to 8 percent. African-American and Hispanic-American firms both received 3 percent increases in professional service goals - while women, originally just white women, saw their goal increase from about 16 percent to more than 37 percent.

Another major component of the revision is the implementation of the M/WBEStat program -- a system designed for greater accountability and oversight of the M/WBE program.

A high-ranking city official will be selected to oversee a quarterly gathering of M/WBE officers -- where they will discuss strategies to get eligible firms within their portfolios to secure contracts. City commissioners will be required to attend two of those meetings, and report on whether their agency is meeting procurement goals.

The bill would also lift the $1 million contract cap currently placed on M/WBE's within the program. Despite some of the apparent improvements to Intro-911, Frank Garcia, outspoken critic of the bill since its details were released in October, feels insulted that the 4 percent procurement goal for Hispanic construction firms remains.

"We're very disappointed with this decision. We thought that they would at least negotiate with us to give us a higher percentage," Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, tells the Voice. "We lost the fight but we didn't lose the war yet. "

Garcia renewed his promise to mobilize members of his chambers and the Hispanic community against elected officials, including several city council members, who helped push the bill. He also says that his coalition is considering filing a lawsuit to block the bill from passing into law.

Supporters of the bill within the Hispanic business community say the benefits of the bill will outweigh what was lost in the reduced construction procurement goal.

"This reform will benefit all M/WBE's because it will allow them to partner up with other M/WBE's and bid on much larger City contracts," Alfred Placeres, president of NYS Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, tells the Voice. "More remains to be done. The City needs to significantly increase Hispanic M/WBE participation which is minimal. Intro 911 will assist them in accomplishing this goal."

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rclegg
rclegg

Why do race, ethnicity, and sex need to be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract? It's good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either--whether it's labeled a "set-aside," a "quota," or a "goal," since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it's almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief: http://www.pacificlegal.org/page.aspx?pid=1342 ). Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

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