Onondaga County lawmakers made policy on Tuesday something that’s been unofficial practice for decades. They unanimously approved a measure that codifies the consideration of minority and women business enterprises, or MWBE’s for county contracts.
Democratic floor leader Linda Ervin says nothing really changes.
"It's now a policy of this county to do this, rather than the administration just doing a program that had the same langauge in the bid documents. But she didn't have the authority from this legislature to do that. We just let it happen for years and years without a policy being in place. All it does now is make it into a law."
Even so, the legislature was commended for making the move, which also adds Veteran and Service Disabled Veteran owned businesses to the mix. Deputy Mayor of Syracuse Sharon Owens served as MWBE compliance officer for the city for part of the Miner administration.
"I firsthand had the opportunity to see how these programs actually benefit not only the companies that are able to be subcontracted with public works projects, but I also saw the companies grow in this city and in this county partly because of the opportunity they were provided by the public sector."
Aggie Lane is Vice President of the Urban Jobs Task Force, and has pushed the City of Syracuse to beef up and comply with its own MWBE program. She says the county's move is worth celebrating.
"Construction in public service contracts tend to be who you know and who your networks are. We live in a very segregated county and city, so people get excluded."
Legislator Monica Williams says the companies hire workers and pay taxes like any other business.
"No one's looking for a hand-out. They just want an even playing field, which we all know has not always been the case."
Legislator Linda Ervin says the goals for the county’s program remain the same…to put people to work.
"Look around our county and if you see what's been done, there's a need for this program. Our poverty levels are so high, if we can provide jobs for people of color and women owned businesses, we should."
Still, some lawmakers called for a disparity study to justify the program. Ervin agrees one should be done, but the legislature would have to find the money for what could be a three to four year project. In a statement, County executive Joanie Mahoney praised lawmakers for affirming longstanding county policy. She says the legislation will rectify some of the barriers that have prevented some qualified MWBE businesses from fairly competing for county contracts.