Procurement policy falters in City Council

Fireworks flew during a Rockford City Council Code and Regulation Committee meeting May 8.

The proposed Minority Women Business Enterprise Procurement Policy—intended to level the playing field for minority contractors—pitted Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) against Campos Construction Inc. Owner Linda Campos.

The policy sets a goal of awarding 25 percent of city contracts to minority contractors, and 5 percent to women contractors for construction projects, contracts and purchases less than $10,000 and professional services.

Committee members approved the policy by vote of 4-1. Ald. Patrick Curran (R-2) was the lone dissenter.

Members of the African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and Native American communities are considered minorities, according to the proposed policy. If a minority controls at least 51 percent of a company, that enterprise is considered a minority-owned business. The same definition is used to identify a woman-owned business.

The policy almost made it to the floor during the May 8 Rockford City Council meeting. Thompson asked Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), Code and Regulation chairman, to suspend the rules to get the policy up for a vote. But City Legal Department Director Patrick Hayes alerted Beach that the agenda listed the wrong ordinance. Beach had asked to suspend the rules to approve a bicycle ordinance.

Beach said the policy will be read in as a new committee report during the May 15 council meeting.

“We need to let it take its natural course,” Beach said.

Beach stressed the mistake was only a clerical error.

Campos stressed, during public participation, the Thompson-backed policy was patently unfair.

“The document is very slanted,” Campos said.

Campos said the policy discriminated against white women. She worried the goals were actually quotas. Campos said decreasing her opportunities would affect both her and her employees. But she said her workers might have an alternative.

“Perhaps, I’ll send them to Galaxy,” Campos said.

Campos was referring to the Thompson-owned and operated Galaxy Commercial Cleaning. Thompson disagreed with Campos’s take on the policy.

Thompson said: “It’s not to exclude anyone. That’s a stretch of the imagination.”

According to Thompson, the policy allows the city to look at its capabilities to include more minority participation in city projects.

Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) asked whether the policy could have one goal for both women and minorities. Holt said he’d learned women were considered minorities. Curran (R-2) was surprised to learn that.

“Since when are women minorities?” Curran said.

Rockford City Attorney Patrick Hayes said it would be better to measure the progress of women and minority contractors separately. Hayes said it would take 60 to 90 days to devise a system to articulate the policy.

But Curran said he thought the goals for women and minority contractors should be consolidated. He also said the goals, most likely, would become something else.

Curran said: “I think they should be lumped together. I know it’s a goal, but in time, it’s going to become a quota.”

Hayes said the city will need to learn the economic barriers minority businesses face, and, he said, it’s good to have a goal.

Curran stressed his support of the document. “I have no problem supporting this policy,” he said. “My concern (is) the numbers.”

But Curran and Campos seemed to be on the same page. “This isn’t even level anymore,” Curran said. “It’s slanted toward minorities.”

Curran said he was uncomfortable with policy language that asks the city to “search for” women and minority contractors. He also again stressed the numbers were unnecessary.

Curran predicted city departments would be “tripping over themselves” to put the policy into action. Thompson was less than pleased with the comments.

“You have had months and months to get your questions answered,” Thompson said, accusing some Code and Regulation Committee members of grandstanding.

Thompson stressed the policy itself was not discriminatory.

“This is not being (tilted) for minorities,” Thompson said.

Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) urged the committee approve the policy. Wasco said he has confidence in the city’s legal department.

“The time is now to move it forward,” Wasco said. “Let’s take it to the floor for an up and down vote.”

But Curran’s concerns remained.

“It’s a good document,” Curran said. “(But) it’ll work without the numbers.”

Before the policy received committee approval, Curran moved to remove the numbers. That motion died for lack of a second.

Campos said, after the committee meeting, the numbers set by the policy should either be inclusive or “separate but equal.”

“We need a policy” Campos said. “We definitely need a policy. (But) we don’t need a divisive policy.”

Thompson said she was pleased the policy got committee approval. She said the policy had been thoroughly reviewed and attempts had been made to establish a “reachable” goal. Thompson stressed that, “We need a measure.”

Thompson also discounted Campos’s claim.

Thompson said: “When have white women been discriminated against? I have no knowledge of that.”

Thompson also said her involvement with creating the policy poses no conflict of interest, since she can’t bid on city contracts.

From the May 10-16, 2006, issue

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