barbara_j._jordan_syii_web.jpgMiami-Dade County must be committed to creating a contracting process that is fair to everyone, regardless of race, gender or ethnic origin.  I am determined, along with some of my colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners, to ensure that equal opportunity is the policy and the practice of the county.

Please join with us to encourage our new mayor and all of the members of the Board of County Commissioners to implement immediate and long-term efforts that will ensure equity in county government contracts for blacks, women and other historically underserved populations.

There is no commitment to black business in Miami-Dade County.  Our dismal record in contracting with black and other minority-owned businesses is evidence of that.  What success we have achieved in past years has been destroyed by the determined actions of a few. The result is that blacks and other underserved populations are less able to secure county contracts today than they were in the past. 

Black people are nearly 18 percent of Miami-Dade’s population and 15 percent of businesses in Miami-Dade are black-owned.  Blacks do not receive a share of county contracts anywhere near our proportion of the population of residents or businesses. The same is true for women and for other ethnic minorities. 

In an effort to correct historic disparities, Miami-Dade County implemented a series of preference programs in the 1980s and ’90s.  The programs provided unprecedented opportunities for blacks, Hispanics and women to compete for and win county contracts.  The results were significant. 

Between Jan. 1, 1993, and June 30, 1997, a period of three-and-one-half years for which complete data are available, black-owned businesses were awarded prime contracts valued at $168 million, about seven percent of the total $2.4 billion, and sub-awards valued at nearly $99 million, about 41 percent out of $241 million.  Clearly, these programs were helping to reduce historic disparities in county contracting.

Compare that to the current level of minority participation that is revealed by data from the Small Business Department. During the last four calendar years, Jan. 1, 2006, through Dec. 31, 2010, black-owned businesses were awarded only one percent of the county’s prime contracting expenditures and 14 percent of the county’s sub-contracting expenditures (about $120 million and $140 million, respectively). 

The total prime contracts awarded by the county were valued at around $12 billion and the sub-awards at around $1 billion.  Out of the total $13 billion, black-owned firms received only about $260 million.

Due to a series of lawsuits, Miami-Dade County’s Black, Hispanic and Women Business Enterprise programs were shut down in 1997. Federal courts found that Miami-Dade’s minority programs were unconstitutional because the county had not demonstrated that discrimination had occurred. 

In order to resume these types of race and gender conscious activities, the county must conduct a disparity study or show other strong evidence that there are inequities in the opportunities available to underserved populations.  The county must also design a program or programs that are narrowly tailored towards remediating the problems identified by the evidence.  

I started the process to secure data for a disparity study two years ago and, along with Commissioners Dennis Moss, Audrey Edmonson and Jean Monestime, our collective efforts are gaining traction.   

I believe that a lack of commitment to underserved communities reflects a failure of leadership.  There have been valiant efforts over the years on the part of a small group of elected officials, administrators, business leaders and concerned residents.  But it has not been enough. 

The commitment to equity must come from the top and it must be unequivocal.  People do business with those they know and are comfortable with.  County administrators must be held accountable for bringing in diversity in our contracting.  If they do not succeed, they must be asked why. All the studies and good intentions in the world will not make the process fair and inclusive until we want it to be fair and inclusive. I know that our people will be able to find ways to make these opportunities happen.

Our residents have a responsibility, as well.  Miami-Dade residents must demand that our county government implement effective strategies that will level the playing field.  Voters must hold our leaders accountable for ensuring that there is equal opportunity for all. 

It is time to act.  And, there is much work to be done.

Barbara J. Jordan is the Miami-Dade County District 1 commissioner.

Photo: Barbara J. Jordan