By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
This past week, while the city debated over the issue of removing Confederate monuments, four African-American city council members remarked during a press conference that there were other issues of concern to the local Black community. Chief among those concerns expressed was the awarding of contracts to African-American business owners.
John Proctor, president of the Dallas Black Contractors Association has been expressing those very concerns for quite a while. He said there had been inroads made in the past
“We had the first Black program manager for the bond program at DISD,” Proctor recalled. “That’s a pretty big job, a very big job. It was one of the head contractor jobs. What happened later is that they decided to change their process and procedures and bring that type job in-house. That was the first time a Black has ever got that job in the history of DISD (Dallas Independent School District). We are working to try to save that program with DISD.”
Proctor said he estimates Black businesses are getting approximately 1 percent of the work with DISD, maybe up to 3 percent with the city, and only about 1 percent of the work with private businesses. He said they spend more time sitting on the bench waiting for work than they do performing work in the Dallas market.
“I would rather have a Klansman in a hood than a Klansman in penny loafers,” Proctor said.
Proctor can easily rattle off the names of three Black-owned companies which have left the Dallas market and have been able to be successful in other cities. He says the problem is systemic in Dallas and needs to change. While the African-American experience is what triggered reforms aimed at minority communities, he points out white women are getting the lion’s share of “minority” contracts, and Blacks trail even the Hispanic businesses in the Dallas area. From the beginning, there have been numerous assertions that white business owners have simply listed their company in their wife’s name in order to be able to check off the “minority” qualification, essentially moving on in a “business as usual” manner.
While complaints from Black contractors are not limited to business conducted with the DISD, Annie Holmes-Partee, director of Minority / Women Business Enterprises (M/WBE) for the Dallas ISD, took time to field questions from the North Dallas Gazette in regards to how such contracts are awarded. She said her colleagues are aware of the growing complaints.
“Yes, Dallas ISD’s administration and staff have been made aware of this sentiment,” Holmes-Partee said. “Occasionally, we receive sentiments from diverse communities. Whenever these comments are expressed, we take them very seriously.
According to Holmes-Partee, “There has been ongoing discussions with the diverse business community, including but not limited to the following: M/WBE Advisory Committee, Regional Black Contractor Association, Dallas Black Chamber, Greater Southwest Black Chamber, D/FW Minority Supplier Development Council, National Association of Minority Contractors, Regional Hispanic Contractor Association, Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber, Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber, etc.
“The M/WBE Advisory Committee is comprised of a cross reference of community business leaders which help us address issues of concern and find solutions. Sometimes concerns go directly to the administration which are usually delegated directly to M/WBE Department for research and findings. A continuing goal of the district is to maximize the participation of all minority and women-owned companies. The district’s M/WBE Department is actively engaged within the diverse business community to ensure that all companies are given fair and equitable opportunities to compete for district contracts.”
Proctor said he is concerned the public at large is often misled by statistics coming out of minority business reports. Primarily, Black-owned businesses might be “awarded contracts,’ but then never get any actual work from those contracts. Without the revenue, receiving contracts doesn’t improve business opportunities for African-Americans in the community.
“In some cases, the district will utilize multiple vendor awards,” Holmes-Partee said. “The end users are given a pool of vendors to utilize. Some companies are utilized; whereas, other companies are not utilized. The M/WBE Department has coordinated various Vendor EXPOs to assist minority and women-owned companies with marketing their products/services to the end users.”
According to Proctor, the way the system is currently operating, not just with the schools, but the city and other entities is simply not spreading the work around the way he and his African-American colleagues feel it should. He is looking for ways to better even the playing field.
“If they want to they could (break it down by ethnicity),” Proctor said. “The whole deal is what they desire the outcome to be. The only thing I can tell you is that M/WBE, which is what they call this thing. The majority of the people getting the contracts is WBE, which is white women, and the Blacks are dead last. Not only at DISD, everywhere.”
This does not mean they are not seeking potential solutions. “One of the things we are doing is working with the big contractors, the white contractors that can bond, to work with Black contractors. So we can get some work and increase our funding. That’s a major issue because our bonding is not where it needs to be to be able to take on one or two jobs. We might could take on one job, and that’s not growing capacity when you do that.
“History, capacity, doing the work; it’s just like a credit rating. If you are able to get a couple of bills and pay those bills on time, they’ll give you some more. But you’ve got to get some more in able to do some more.”
Whether or not African-American businesses feel they have gotten a fair shake in the past, Holmes-Partee emphasized the door to district contracts remains open and her office is determined to do their part to improve the playing field for African-American as well as other contractors in Dallas.
“We encourage all companies to bid on district contracts” Holmes-Partee concluded. “Companies may contact the district’s M/WBE Department at 972-925-4140 for assistance.”