With strong support from minority communities, voters overwhelmingly approved the zero tax increase bond issue put before them during the Nov. 8 general election. It was hard to argue with a program that will improve our schools, invests in our children, and helps make Wyandotte County more attractive to companies and residents.
Besides, $232 million worth of work pouring into the community over the next five years would be good for the economy. Think of the jobs for construction and skill trades people. Think of the opportunities for small and minority companies. Well, maybe not so much for women companies or minority companies. Based on the district’s documented history, these groups have reason to be concerned about getting even a modest share of any work under the bond program.
That’s why a group of minority contractors and representatives from the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce were on hand at USD 500’s board meeting on Tues., March 21. Approval of the contract for the Construction Management Firm and the Architects for the bond issue were on the agenda for approval and, the group wanted to know what if any efforts were being made to ensure minority and women businesses would benefit from the project.
The group pointed to the district’s recent numbers as a reason for their concern. On USD 500’s new construction projects from 2012 -2016, women business enterprise participation was just 4.49% and minority business participation was even less, at just1.74%. In a county with a majority minority population, that has a school district with a majority minority enrollment, numbers like that indicate minority businesses are sorely underrepresented, if not forgotten, the business people told the school board.
Forgotten may be the case, since a review of the district’s contract with J.E. Dunn, the company hired as the Construction Manager for the bond project, made no mention of any requirements for the company to work with and/or include minority or women businesses as subcontractors or, even a requirement to notify minority contractors of opportunities available under the bond issue.
According to contractor Delbert Selectman, he’s not surprised. Selectman’s business is based in Kansas City, Kansas, but he says all of his work comes from Missouri.
“I can’t get any work in my own back yard,” said Selectman, who admits he really hadn’t considered applying for any work under the bond issue until he was contacted by Crystal Watson, CEO of the following the bond issue as a place for potential work. He’d given up on opportunities in Kansas.
However, when Watson reached out to him about the opportunity to bid on some of the bond work, he said, “why not?” It’s time for a change in Kansas, he and the other business owners agreed.
“Kansas City, MO has an aggressive program of reaching out to and contracting with minority vendors<” said Selectman. One of those programs identifies jobs where there are an adequate number of small local businesses qualified to bid and complete and designates them as projects strictly for small local businesses to bid on. It’s the kind of program that’s helping small businesses, and the KCMO economy, grow.
Selectman has been working with the Kansas Black Leadership Council to encourage the implementation of a similar program in Kansas.
It’s not all bad
There’s still calls for JE Dunn to bid some of the work in smaller parcels that minority businesses may be able to qualify for.
What’s missing is any motivation for JE Dunn to reach out to minority businesses. Also missing is any inducement for JE Dunn to try to partner minorities as subcontractors on larger bids where they can’t qualify as prime contractors.
Also missing is a group, organization, or individual responsible for holding Dunn’s “feet to the fire,” especially absent any contract requirements for minority or women participation.
As an example, on the first bid under the bond project, minority contractors weren’t notified about the bid opportunity. Heartland was contacted just two days before the first bids were due.
“If my minority contractors aren’t adequately informed, how are they going to bid,” queried Watson?
By the time Watson said she was informed about the bid opportunity, it was too late for the minority contractors to attend the pre-bid meeting. Watson got on the phone to Dunn and convinced them to hold another pre-bid meeting, then hustled up 12 -15 contractors to attend.
If USD 500 is serious about including minority and women in the bond project work, they need a contract compliance officer or organization. It’s the role Heartland played, and was needed, with just the first bid under the bond issue.
“If minority and women contrac
tors have problems with Dunn, who will they go to get it resolved,” asked Watson? The district doesn’t have a contract in place to address those kind of issues. Especially since things are already starting off on a bad foot
“IF JE Dunn is left to do their own compliance, that’s like the fox watching the hen house” Watson said.
The district has agreed to meet with Watson and a group of the contractors to hear their concerns. We’ll keep you posted.