Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: A Boost For Black Businesses by Jackie Crosby
Two months after holding a public meeting to listen to concerns of St. Paul's black community, Mayor Randy Kelly on Friday introduced a plan to improve business opportunities and to provide young people with better support for jobs and education.
In addressing the long-simmering issue of lack of access to the city's economic development projects, Kelly said he has formed a task force to study the issue. He said a report on the city's outreach and affirmative-action goals for minority contractors will be delivered to him within 30 days.
"We heard clearly from the community that we're not doing enough to ensure minority businesses have a fair and equal shot at success," said Kelly, who made the announcement at the Hallie Q. Brown-Martin Luther King Center.
But some in attendance said afterward that Kelly was long on ideas and short on specifics.
"A task force is just another layer," said Woodrow W. Jefferson, vice president of Cornerstone Mortgage Services. "We've been chasing this horse for two years, and this was just another feel-good meeting."
Jefferson's colleague, chief executive officer Mike Thomas, agreed: "The problem is that the established developers run the show from start to finish ... and there's no plank for us to walk on to get to those businesses."
Kelly was joined by prominent black city leaders, including Police Chief John Harrington, Human Rights Director Tyrone Terrell and City Council Member Debbie Montgomery.
Montgomery applauded the mayor's effort in identifying roadblocks to improving outreach to minority vendors and contractors and in trying to figure out "how to get people to step up." She said development projects along University Avenue at Lexington Parkway and Dale Street could provide needed jobs for many minority members and small-business owners.
Many in the black community have expressed heightened frustration with the city since minority business development director Edward McDonald was let go last summer. McDonald, who settled a whistle-blower lawsuit for $82,5000 in March, had claimed he was fired for trying to hold the city accountable in hiring more women- and minority-owned contractors.
In November, small-businesses owners, civil-rights advocates and contractors lined up to tell City Council members their experiences of being denied access to public development projects and other city contracts.
Afterward, the council formed its own committee of city and community representatives, which has been meeting regularly since December. The group's first recommendation was for top city officials to address institutional barriers by participating in a two-day workshop, "Undoing Racism."
On Friday, Kelly announced that he, Deputy Mayor Dennis Flaherty and the city's directors and top aides will be attending the workshop. A number of City Council members will participate, too.
Dianne Binns of the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP, said she was taking a "wait-and-see approach" to the mayor's announcement, noting that she wasn't sure why another task force was being formed to look at an issue that comes as a surprise to no one.
"There has been a lot of talking over the years, and I'm still waiting to see some assurance that things will change," she said. "We know that what keeps a community viable is money -- through jobs and employment. And we don't see that happening."
Jackie Crosby writes for The Star Tribune and can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This article first appeared on July 16, 2004
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Wednesday, August 4, 2004