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Diversity denied

Blacks, women lose out on contracts

By C. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Gov. Rick Snyder needs a dashboard to measure the state’s efforts at diversity and inclusion. Michigan’s dashboards measure the state’s effectiveness in key areas including economic strength and quality of life. Observers say the state should also measure its efforts to include women, African Americans and people of color.

Rendering of the M-1 line

Rendering of the M-1 line

In the next few years, billions of dollars will be spent in Detroit — trash collection will be privatized, a new hockey stadium may be built — costing taxpayers more than $300 million, $52 million in demolition work will be done, the M-1 line begun and a new bridge to Canada on the way.

If no priorities are set, it is likely Detroit-based businesses and Black businesses will receive little of these monies.

The Snyder administration — through state funds, the administration of federal dollars or emergency management — will direct the majority of these funds.

“The Governor understands diversity and affirmative action,” says Steve Spreitzer acting-CEO and director of programs for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. “He talks about inclusion so he needs to be called on it. Like any leader, of any organization, they may intend for something to happen but if folks don’t push it, it won’t happen.”

In 2006, Michigan voters decided to end affirmative action — government policy designed to redress injustice and a “legacy of discrimination against people of color” and women. The end of affirmative action — designed to increase race and gender participation — has meant a dramatic drop in state and government contracting, according to the Michigan Roundtable report released last week.

Additionally, no person of color currently heads any of the departments under the Snyder administration.

Spreitzer says the governor should create a “dashboard for the things that matter.” State Rep. Thomas Stallworth says he, along with the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, is asking the state to adopt systems to track and increase government spending for minority, local and qualified firms.

Last month, Gov. Snyder announced $52.3 million in demolition dollars would go to Detroit for blight removal. Flint, Pontiac, Grand Rapids and Saginaw will also benefit from “the largest residential blight removal effort in state history.”

The U.S. Treasury will allow the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to use its Hardest Hit Funds to tear down houses and help remove blight around the state.

Detroit will receive the majority of the funds. The Snyder administration says 4,000 structures will be removed over 18 months.

“A demolition plan is not a neighborhood stabilization plan,” says Stallworth. “We need a more comprehensive approach to revitalize our communities. Fifty-two million is being spent just to tear down houses. I believe that money needs to be used in a way to improve the economic condition of our communities.”

Stallworth and the Michigan Black Caucus is advocating for productive vacant lot disposal. He says adjacent neighbors should be given the chance to own the lot, along with block clubs.

Vacant lots are not a substitute for a house but another form of blight, according to Stallworth who believes “dollars need to circulate more than once in our communities.”

According to Michele Wildman, special assistant for program development at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, there will be specific attempts to provide outreach to Detroit-based contractors. Once qualifications for Hardest Hit contractors are finalized, the partners implementing demolition in Detroit will hold an information session to educate contractors on program requirements and explain the steps necessary to bid on demolition work.

Wildman noted that announcements are forthcoming.

Yet, according the diversity report, Affirmative Action Denied, since 2007, minority and women contractors have lost out on state contracts with a dire impact on cities like Detroit. “In a state like Michigan, where groups of color are the only populations that are growing, it is important to support such businesses if we wish to provide equal opportunity to all,” the report reads. “Research shows that minority businesses hire greater      percentages of employees of color than majority owned firms. As businesses of color are given greater opportunity to grow, they will train and employ more residents of color who can then reinvest in their communities.”

Detroit has the highest concentration of families living in poverty in southeast Michigan. Nearly 36 percent of people live in poverty and the median income in the city has fallen since 2007, according to the Census Bureau numbers.

In 2011, Snyder addressed unemployment and underemployment in Detroit and other urban areas at the Mackinac Policy Conference but has failed to articulate urban policy initiatives or workforce and economic development plans to assist.

This week, the city — under the direction of Snyder-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr — received proposals from companies hoping to takeover trash collection in Detroit. Orr announced, in June, the city would privatize trash collection.

Of the ten proposals the city received, none appear to be located in Detroit and it is unclear if any are minority or Black-owned. One is even headquartered in Canada.

No incentive for Detroit-based businesses was indicated in the request for proposals. In a purchasing memo to prospective bidders addressing frequently asked questions, the city notes: “City of Detroit is seeking any and all qualified suppliers” when asked if it is seeking minority participation for all or part of the solid waste contract.

The memo is also addressed to the “gentlemen” who are presumably preparing their bids.

Spreitzer says municipalities often hide behind the law, saying they cannot legally give contracts to minorities or women because of the ban on affirmative action. He points to the best practices adopted by colleges and universities to ensure diversity but follow the law. He says municipalities have to be creative about the ways they recruit and target potential contractors. He believes the business sector is getting it right because they know diverse teams offer competitive advantage but the public sector needs to catch up.

“That is leadership,” says Spreitzer. “Those that are making decisions about contracting — if they wanted to make sure local contractors, Black, white or whatever participate — can make that happen. They use the law as an excuse to do what they never wanted to do in the first place. If they cared they would find a way around it.”

For more information and view full Michigan Roundtable report, Affirmative Action denied visit http://www.miroundtable.org/assets/postproptworeport_8_30.pdf

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