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July 29, 2014, 12:51 pm

Biz owners, lawyers push for more city contracts

African-American entrepreneurs interested in bidding on city contracts gathered at the law offices of Moody, Shields, Mincey and Fitzpatrick at 1613 Spruce Street on Thursday to discuss the state of minority contracts, and the firm’s plans to help minority businesses acquire and maintain such contracts.

“The purpose of this meeting is to provide a resource center for minority-owned businesses that are either doing business on the government level, or the private sector, or are aspiring to do so,” said Isaac Green, an attorney at the firm.

Minority contracts have long been a concern in the city and several statements were made about some who exploit the process. Moody, Shields, Mincey and Fitzpatrick wants to get on the front line of the fight to see that minorities get their fair share of city contracts.

“We feel there has been a dearth of aggressive legal representation for those businesses who have made the effort and failed — or have been discouraged from pursuing them,” said Green.

While such contracts could most certainly help the individual businesses which acquire them, Green says that there are also larger implications at stake.

“We believe that if we can have a positive impact on the growth and development of minority businesses in Philadelphia, we would have been able to make a larger contribution by way of people working and paying taxes, people buying homes, educating their kids and stabilizing their communities. We look at it from a macro-economic standpoint,” said Green, who said the effort will be ongoing.

The event was open to the public, and entrepreneurs and elected officials who were responsible in some way with minority contracting were encouraged to attend, said Deneen Wilkerson, also an attorney at the law firm.

Wilkerson described the event as an information forum for minority contractors to learn about the roles of the inspector general and the office of Economic Opportunity in minority contracts.

“In the future we hope to become advocates for the minority contractor, and we plan on fighting for their legal rights, and we also plan on joining them on the front lines in civil disobedience, showing up at job sites protesting to find out if we can work as well,” said Wilkerson.

The city’s office of inspector general is responsible for investigating abuses, and Inspector General Amy L. Kurland spoke about one investigation in which a company falsely claimed to have contracted with minority businesses in order to acquire a city contract.

“I’m here because we, at our office, do investigations of fraud, corruption and misconduct. One of our new initiatives is to look at sham minority contractors,” said Kurland. “We have several investigations where we find a prime contractor says that they are using a minority company, and they are not.”

At other times, minority companies are paid just to use their names without having to provide any services.

This is a problem because legitimate minority businesses that want to work are being shut out and are not being given the opportunity to participate on a level playing field,” said Kurland, who said most investigations begin with complaints, and therefore she encourages those who believe they have been wrongfully denied contracts to contact her office.

Despite concerns about the numbers of contracts given to legitimate minority businesses, Angela Dowd-Burton, executive director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, said the numbers of contracts awarded to such businesses has expanded.

“Over the last two years we have been able to increase the overall registry (of minority businesses) by 60 percent. We started out with about 1300 companies, to over 2, 000,” said Burton.

“I think it is extremely important for companies to come together to learn about opportunities and share access to information, ideas and financial resources, etc,” said Burton, who said she was thrilled at what she saw at the law firm. “I am also very much interested in learning what companies are seeing in the market place, and whether they are seeing what we are saying about the city of Philadelphia awarding more contracts to minority and women owned businesses.”

Those who wish to learn more or contact the Office of the Inspector General can call 215-686-1770, or visit them on the Web at: www.phila.gov/oig.