By Johnnie Burns, Assistant Director – Contract Compliance
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the Contract Compliance Unit (CCU) in the City of Minneapolis. Some representatives of the “media” have written that we are not doing much in the way of getting minority business participation on construction projects. Some have questioned the accuracy of the 2010 Disparity Study. Some have blogged that we are “fixing” participation numbers for minority and female employment on construction sites. Some just say we’re not doing enough. Others have even blogged about my experience to be able to handle the work that the Contract Compliance Unit performs. Well, let’s take a closer look at some things.
Minority Business Participation
At year end 2007 — before I became a leader in the Civil Rights Department — the CCU achieved 4.23% participation by Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) and 8.84% by Women Business Enterprises (WBEs). At year end 2010, we were achieving 8.5% MBE and 11% WBE participation; the MBE participation actually doubled. In fact, we utilize a verification process for verify the participation of MBE/WBE firms, which means the 8.5%, is accurate.
The Disparity Study thoroughly examined the City’s procurement process as well as the locations and ownership of companies that do business with the city. It also examined the overall marketplace and experiences of women-owned and minority-owned businesses that seek contracts in both the public and private sector. The data used in the Disparity Study was from 2003-2007. I was not part of the Civil Rights department during that period, but I know that one of the reasons the study went longer in Minneapolis than comparable studies in most jurisdictions was so that the consultants could reconstruct the data necessary to render a thorough analysis. The Disparity Study is solid and its recommendations are comprehensive.
Fabricating Participation Numbers/Not Doing Enough
We have also been accused of number “fixing”. That is simply false. The CCU at the City of Minneapolis may have the most comprehensive project monitoring of any of the public entities; we monitor wage compliance, HUD Section 3, small and underutilized business participation (SUBP), and affirmative action in employment. Employment participation is monitored monthly on all City of Minneapolis and federally-funded projects. The employment participation numbers are taken straight from certified payrolls that are entered into a database by every contractor that performs on-site construction work. This payroll data is then reviewed and accepted by experienced CCU staff. CCU staff visit project sites and interview employees to ensure that the information entered in the payroll database reflects reality.
You don’t have to take my word for how this works: we’ll be happy to take you out on a job site with us. In the time that I’ve been here, only one person in the “media” has actually asked to come see our operation. That individual asked tough questions and received honest answers about our compliance programs and was able to see actual project documentation that verified our contract compliance process and results.
My Experience and Education
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I have been working in civil rights programs for nearly twenty years. I started as an emergency hire receptionist in a public civil rights office in 1992 at the age of 19 and slowly worked my way up through hard work and determination. I’ve worked in local, state and federal contracting and compliance programs. I have a detailed understanding of local certification programs, federal certification programs, Title VI & Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, environmental justice, design-build contracting and EPA rules and regulations. I have also taken courses in private investigation, received a master’s certificate of completion in the American Contract Compliance Association, an Associates Degree in Applied Management and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. I also feel very passionate about civil rights work and even though the work has been tough over the years, I have kept the same passion, drive and determination I started with. I have also tried to pass along that same passion to my staff.
So let us give the people who want to distort the truth a camp fire and they can sit around it and tell all the stories they want… but if you want to know what we are really doing in the CCU, come talk with me. I’m happy to both share and listen, because I don’t know it all and don’t pretend to. If there are things we can do better, give me a call or send an e-mail to set up a meeting and let’s talk. In the meantime, I’m going to keep on doing what’s right for the citizens of Minneapolis.