Is Baltimore City Council About to Destroy MBE Opportunities for Sake of LGBTQ? Or white males?

By Doni Glover

(BALTIMORE – May 26, 2021) – “Thanks to my committee colleagues for voting unanimously for my bill creating an LGBTQ business enterprise program. I look forward to the next steps. Thank you!” This is what was posted on a City Councilwoman’s Facebook page yesterday. While it may be a great idea, a question becomes: “At whose expense?”

Members of the Baltimore minority business advocacy community are deeply concerned about Council Bill 21-0033 – Imari’s LGBTQ Procurement Preference Bill. It is viewed as empowering only to white males, and therefore works against the initial spirit of the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) movement. This MBE movement was championed by the likes of the late great Baltimorean, Congressman Parren J. Mitchell, along with President Jimmy Carter in the late 70s.

During his era, generational Black millionaires were created around the country by way of the 8(a) program which sought to finally level the playing field for Black business owners. These businesses gained access to federal contracts, something that simply was not happening before the legislation became law.

That was 1978. Yet, here in 2021, in Congressman Mitchell’s hometown, all of this progress is about to get thrown out the window, according to Black business advocates.

This bill was drafted to declare the LGBTQ population is “disadvantaged” and not given opportunities for fair bidding competition with the City’s procurement, the same as the current minority and women business owners are legally disadvantaged in the city. This bill seeks to implement a duplicate program that mirrors the City’s current MBE/WBE program. If this is done, it allows the LGBTQ program to be granted protected class provisions the same as the MBE/WBE firms, which could greatly diminish the procurement opportunities for the current minorities that are already marginalized in the city. This means the pool of competition would be shared among African Americans/other minority ethnicities/women in addition to other male counterparts who could declare themselves LGBTQ. Inclusion is something that is promising and beneficial but would the creation of this program level the competition or weaken it for existing MBE/WBE firms?

The current bill is being sponsored by Councilwoman Odette Ramos.

This raises several serious questions. For whom is Councilwoman Ramos advocating? And why is she seeking to push legislation that only helps white males? What’s the logic? After all, there is already a federally mandated program that focuses on minorities and women in business.

“This proposed legislation will take from Black businesses that already get the least in Baltimore City,” said Wayne Frazier, President of the Maryland-Washington Minority Companies Association.

Frazier represents a long line of Black business advocates in Baltimore who battled constantly with City Hall to do right by Black businesses. Arnold Jolivet, Esquire, and Robert Lee “Bob” Clay are just two of the greats who made it their business to hold City Hall accountable in the realm of minority business. The Maryland Minority Contractors Association (MMCA), it should be noted, is the oldest MBE association in the state and was started by the likes of Clay, Doug Sands, and Robert Dashiell.

One could say that Baltimore has a long tradition of Black business advocacy going back generations.

“This bill is too subjective,” said former Mayor Sheila Dixon. She added, “It is unrealistic and will set an awful precedent.”

Attorney Robert Dashiell, who is also very familiar with the City’s Board of Public Works and the process of obtaining City contracts, said, “The only group that should be included in the City’s MBE laws are MBEs.”

A tenured lawyer with a heap of experience in Baltimore City, Dashiell stated that the focus should be on “the descendants of those Africans enslaved in the United States for 250 years, who had to endure another 100 years of Jim Crow, and are still suffering from the effects today.”

“The City may want to create a preference for any other group,” he continued. “I have no opinion. I have no objection. But to include white males as MBEs, I find offensive.”

Can the Baltimore City Council declare LGBTQ as disadvantaged (i.e. protected class) the same as minorities and women when this has not been officially defined or ruled by the Supreme Court?

The City currently has an SBLE program listed in the City Charter (https://ca.baltimorecity.gov/codes/Art%2005%20-%20Finance.pdf) and it is not something that is being used.

Questions were raised to those representing this bill about why the SBLE program cannot be considered as a pathway program for the LGBTQ. The SBLE does not provide the same protection as the MBE/WBE program, limiting LGBTQ and white males from being progressively included in procurement competition. This also means the SBLE goal is optional whereas the MBE/WBE goals are highly required for the City’s contracts.

The City is about to embark upon numerous development projects that will present multiple contract opportunities for bidders and minority subcontractors. This might explain why there is such an aggressive push for this LGBTQ bill to be approved and enacted.

Other factors that should be noted, the City’s past disparity studies concluded an MBE/WBE program is desperately needed in Baltimore due to disadvantages to MBE and WBE businesses. A bill of this type will greatly limit the opportunities to MBE and WBE if LGBTQs/white males are deemed a protected class.

The question that should be asked is how can LGBTQ be considered disadvantaged in Baltimore City when federal laws do not designate them as a protected class or demographic?

In addition, the City will need to perform an entirely new disparity study to prove the LBGTQ community is being denied or limited from procurement opportunities, which has not been done. This was mentioned at the last public hearing back in February which is also on Charm TV.

Perhaps the advocates for minority businesses can render more voice to this matter since this bill could widen the gap of competition for City contracts.

Frazier, who typically has the largest minority business event in the state at Martin’s West in Woodlawn this time of year, added, “I look forward to the evidence that the Councilwoman brings forward illustrating any discrimination that LGBTQ-owned businesses experienced in winning work. All other protected groups have.”

“I have no issue with formulating a means to ensure there is not a disparity in contracting within the LGBTQE community,” said Tamara Brown. Brown is the former MWBOO Chief.

She continued, “However, we have an MBE/WBE program that is broken and never worked. We have a small and local business enterprise program (SBLE) that is in the code that was never implemented. So now officials want to add on to an office that is already hemorrhaging. The disparity study RFP was drafted so that the study could first ensure there is in fact a disparity in LGBTQE contracting in Baltimore City. When Catherine Pugh created a similar executive order, it failed to address a number of things to include the verification and certification of an LGBTQE organization. It cannot be done on the outside by another organization as it was originally planned because the proposed certifying organization was asking LGBTQE business owners to pay a fee. So now you are treating one group differently than another and that is not the correct way to resolve anything. It creates a problem. Again, the City has an MBE and WBE program. A minority or woman in the LGBTQE community can get into the program today. Albeit, the program doesn’t work… Nonetheless, the only other group left out is a non-minority individual who was born as a man and typically, those groups are not facing a disparity. I say, let’s wait for the study to be finalized. There has to be actual metrics to establish such a program and if we have not figured out how to make it work for the majority demographic of this city, we are treading in dangerous territory when adding more responsibility to an already broken system. I spoke extensively with the LGBTQE liaison Jabari Lyles about this during my tenure with the City and Jabari was in full agreement with stepping back and waiting for a full study. It just made more sense. We know that our people were enslaved, and we know for a fact there is a wealth gap, discrimination and disparity in contracting with Black businesses, yet we are still required to conduct a disparity study every 4 years to prove it in order to have such a program in place. So why not do the same for here?”

 

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City of Baltimore Meeting Agenda – Final City Council City Hall, Room 408 100 North Holliday Street Baltimore, Maryland 21202 Virtual/Du Burns Chambers, 4th Floor, City Hall: Phone: +1-408-418-9388,

Wednesday, May 26, 2021, 1:01 PM Worksession: 21-0033 CHARM TV 25 CALL TO ORDER INTRODUCTIONS ATTENDANCE ITEMS SCHEDULED FOR WORKSESSION

Imari’s LGBTQ Procurement Preference Act For the purpose of creating an LGBTQ Business Enterprise (“LGBTQBE”) Program, to be administered by the Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office; defining certain terms; establishing the eligibility requirements for firms seeking to participate in the LGBTQBE Program; establishing revocation criteria for firms in the LGBTQBE Program; authorizing the City to employ various affirmative procurement initiatives to promote the award of City contracts to LGBTQBEs; requiring annual reports on the LGBTQBE Program; requiring periodic hearings on and review of the LGBTQBE Program; providing for the appeal of certain adverse determinations by the Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office; setting certain penalties; correcting, conforming, and clarifying related provisions; renumbering certain sections; and generally relating to City procurement requirements. 21-0033

Sponsors: Odette Ramos, Kristerfer Burnett, Sharon Green Middleton, Ryan Dorsey, Zeke Cohen, Robert Stokes, Sr., Antonio Glover
ADJOURNMENT THIS MEETING IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

 

City of Baltimore Meeting Minutes – Final Public Safety and Government Operations 1:01 PMVirtual/Du Burns Chambers, 4th Floor, City Hall: Phone: +1-408-418-9388

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 Worksession: 21-0033 CHARM TV 25 CALL TO ORDER INTRODUCTIONS ATTENDANCE Mark Conway, Kristerfer Burnett, Zeke Cohen, Eric T. Costello, Antonio Glover, Phylicia Porter, and Odette Ramos Present 7 – ITEMS SCHEDULED FOR WORK SESSION 21-0033

Imari’s LGBTQ Procurement Preference Act For the purpose of creating an LGBTQ Business Enterprise (“LGBTQBE”) Program, to be administered by the Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office; defining certain terms; establishing the eligibility requirements for firms seeking to participate in the LGBTQBE Program; establishing revocation criteria for firms in the LGBTQBE Program; authorizing the City to employ various affirmative procurement initiatives to promote the award of City contracts to LGBTQBEs; requiring annual reports on the LGBTQBE Program; requiring periodic hearings on and review of the LGBTQBE Program; providing for the appeal of certain adverse determinations by the Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office; setting certain penalties; correcting, conforming, and clarifying related provisions; renumbering certain sections; and generally relating to City procurement requirements.

Sponsors: Odette Ramos, Kristerfer Burnett, Sharon Green Middleton, Ryan Dorsey, Zeke Cohen, Robert Stokes, Sr., Antonio Glover

A motion was made by member Porter, seconded by member Ramos, that bill 21-0033 be recommended favorably with amendments. The motion carried by the following vote: Yes: 7 – Conway, Burnett, Cohen, Costello, Glover, Porter, and Ramos ADJOURNMENT