The City Council today agreed to look, again, at how to increase the percentage of contracts the city awards to companies owned by minorities and women - which, the last time the city disclosed numbers, was less than 1% of roughly $664 million in contracts each year.
One of the sponsors of the request for a formal hearing was at-large Councilor Michelle Wu, who said today that a local minority contractor, whom she did not name, spotted a bid in the Boston City Record, which lists city procurement requests, he wanted to bid on, but that after he spent considerable time preparing a bid was told he did not qualify because he did not attend a mandatory bid meeting.
The problem, Wu continued, was that the bid request didn't mention the meeting, so how was he supposed to know about it? Well, he was told, a notice was sent to "a private mailing list" the city department runs to alert would be bidders - which also was not disclosed anywhere. The frustrated contractor was told he could ask to be added to the list - so he'd know about future meetings.
"We've got a very, very long way to go," Wu said.
Wu, and Council President Kim Janey, who co-sponsored the request for a hearing, said that if the city is serious about increasing business for local-, minority- and women-owned businesses, it has to stop stuff like this.
"We have to do better and we must do better," Janey said. "It's high time we put our money where our mouth is." She said a first step would be for the city to publish quarterly reports breaking down the percentage of contracts that go to such businesses. She said that since the council voted in 2017 to require such reports, the city has come out with just two of them.
Council Andrea Campbell (Dorchester), though, called for going even further: The city, she said, should set specific goals for increasing the percentage of such contracts each year - with a 20% goal after three years. A city that professes to support equality of opportunity needs to do something for members of communities that have been "shut out of opportunities for generations," she said.
City Councilor Ed Flynn (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, Downtown) supported the basic idea, but said it should be extended to veterans as well, because veteran-owned companies are often overlooked as well.