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Delco Businesses Hit Snag in Quest for Equitable County Contracts

January 12, 2024 Category: Continuing CoverageExplainerFeatureFeatured

Although Delaware County is committed to uplifting businesses owned by people of color, women and veterans, the process for awarding contracts is informal and does not adhere to the appropriate code. This makes it difficult for residents to hold the county accountable for its commitments.

The status of the disparity study, which is supposed to provide insight into whether the county is meeting this goal, is unknown.

This study is the result of a revision of the county public works resolution to address the challenges.

Business owners respectively say the study is needed and that there are disparities in Delaware County, however the County is still working on this study to examine barriers to accessing public works contracts. The study has revealed problems with the county’s procurement practices and workflows.

Stalled Progress

A November email obtained by Generocity from an anonymous source unaffiliated with the consulting firm conducting the study indicated that the county still needs to provide requested information needed to finalize the study.

The County Council passed this resolution aimed at awarding more contracts to women-, veteran- and minority-owned businesses. It describes Asian entrepreneurs as people who “having origins in any of the Far East countries,” a Eurocentric term used by imperialists to describe Asia’s distance from Europe. This is something Council campaigned on, said Councilwoman Christine Reuther at the June 2022 council meeting where the resolution was approved. Part of this resolution was to undertake a disparity study.

The County chose to do such a study with the goal of assessing whether they employ contractors from diverse ranges of groups, Solicitor Jonathan Lichtenstein said at the same meeting. This would help the government take steps to increase workforce diversity on public works projects, Lichtenstein added.

This policy came as a part of a list of goals the council put together after seeing the demands for better civil rights and protests against racism in 2020, Councilwoman Elaine Schaefer said at the meeting. She added that The County hoped to pass resolutions that encourage work with more minority-owned businesses.

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Councilwoman Monica Taylor said the resolution will open up work to more County residents.

“We understood that the things that we need to do to promote diversity amongst our contractors and our vendors to the county is a work in progress. We are an increasingly diversifying county,” Reuther said during the 2022 meeting.

Councilman Richard Womack said that they do not want to exclude people of color and women and this resolution will help involve them during the meeting.

There is precedent for disparity studies opening doors for economic opportunity for entrepreneurs of color and their businesses. After a disparity study of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, found that only four percent of contractors were minority-owned businesses, even though there are many minority-owned firms in the area, local government signed an ordinance encouraging contracting with minority-owned businesses, Cleveland.com reported.

Delaware County’s disparity study includes a survey for businesses and vendors in the community. Many vendors responded to the survey, which means they are interested in the study, the consultant wrote in the email.

Mission Creep

In its research, the consultant found that the county’s practices are not in compliance with administrative code, that the procurement and purchase order process has been achieved using loopholes and does not adhere to a formal guide or manual, that there are departmental silos leading to inefficiencies and lack of documentation and hindrance due to staff turnover setting back the flow of information, according to a PowerPoint presentation attached to the email.

Other similar observations by the consultant listed in the PowerPoint presentation include; the county not fully utilizing software systems to automate workflows and lack of tracking financial activity.

The consulting agency asked for bid tabulations, which would provide information about who and what the County has paid for.

In the past, County Council has spent a lot of money on legal services from Ballard Spahr, where Councilwoman Christine Reuther and Deputy Executive Director Marc Woolley worked, Broad and Liberty reported.

With a proper procedure for purchasing and working in accordance with a local government’s codes, a local government makes it easier for citizens to hold them accountable. Codes provide “framework against which the actions of public servants can be measured,” Jayme Renfro explained in her book Public Administration: The Essentials. Having a framework discourages “misuse of power and corruption,” and creates a standard the public can hold the government accountable to, Renfro wrote.

The disparity study is in limbo, an anonymous source told Generocity.

When Generocity asked Delaware County about the status of the disparity study, Public Relations Director Adrienne Marofsky said it’s still underway.

Generocity also asked about what the County will do to solve challenges found from the consultant’s research. Marofsky answered by repeating that the study is still underway.

Delaware County denied Generocity’s request to speak with a representative of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Delaware County plans to hold a peace march, beautification and community building activity events and a poetry session for peace. King fought for racial equity and for economic mobility. 

Generocity asked what the status of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office is and Marofsky wrote back: “Delaware County Council continues to work with County leadership and the County team to fulfill Council’s mission to build a more equitable county, where diversity, equity and inclusion are recognized as core values that drive decision-making, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices,” in an email.

When Generocity asked about where the missing FY2024 budget line item for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office is, Marofsky said the County is not offering information about this.

Business Insights

Glenn Brown, the founder of Real World Law, a private firm providing legal services for businesses, civil and real estate matters, said a disparity study would be a step in the “right direction” of motivating businesses to locate to Delaware County and thrive.

“So it can be determined how many minority businesses are in Delaware County and what barriers they face? I don’t think previously, anybody had tracked that information,” Brown said.

Teresinha Faria, founder and owner of contracting company Honey, Fix It, has seen disparities in Delaware County between how she and men contractors are treated.

“I have had many, many occasions in many places that I arrived at a specific residence to look at the job and I have had the customer open the door and kind of block me from getting inside or not inviting me inside and sticking their head outside the door to see: Where was the man?” She explained.

Over the past 24 years, Faria has built a client-base of 6,000. She said she doesn’t face as much gender discrimination as she did in her early years due to the fact her clients trust her so many new clients hear about her word of mouth and she heavily advertises that Honey, Fix It is women-owned so people understand she’s the contractor when she shows up. Also, she said getting certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council helped her gain trust and respect from clients.

“But still, as far as getting contracts and being able to have access to resources that would better my business, better my position in the industry, help me be more financially stable in the industry? No, that? I don’t get any of that. Not from Delaware County,” Faria said.

Faria would like Delaware County government to more actively encourage women-owned businesses and educate communities about how to have an understanding of the existence of women-owned and minority-owned businesses and these businesses’ capabilities.

“When I say educate in the community, I mean, there needs to be some sort of understanding amongst the community that there are women that are very brave,” Faria said.

Brown said he has not done any work for the County or received work opportunities from them.

“Minority owned businesses, all of us have to work harder to be successful and we provide quality goods and services, in my case services to the community,” Brown said.

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