Minority contractor inclusion is an ongoing effort for the city of Joliet, Joliet Junior College and Will County, officials said.
All three entities have faced public backlash over minority participation in the last year.
“I’m looking to get those three entities at the table together to see if they can do a disparity study to spread the cost,” said Cornel Darden Jr., board chairman for the African American Business Association, who is an advocate for minority contractors.
Darden, joined by business leaders in and around Joliet, is mounting the effort to seek greater equality.
“Us being under the Joliet chamber is unique and unprecedented,” Darden said. “I’m sure it’s been tried before, but the nature of a black business association, or a black chamber, inherently shows that discrimination exists. If discrimination didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be a need for a black chamber, or a black business association.”
Darden said it is imperative that a disparity study is completed.
“I think that they don’t quite understand the importance of minority participation and since they don’t understand it, they don’t make it a priority,” he said. “A disparity study shows the level of discrimination among contractors.”
Representatives for the city of Joliet, Joliet Junior College and Will County did not negate the need to promote greater minority contractor inclusion.
“The college’s commitment to increasing the participation of vendors in JJC’s procurement process is ongoing and inclusive,” said Janice Reedus, director of business and auxiliary services for Joliet Junior College. “Businesses owned by minorities, females, veterans, persons with disabilities, and more are encouraged to participate and share their input on how to grow that participation.”
Reedus said it is important to note there is a difference between procurement goals and legislative mandates.
“According to state law, the college may set aspirational goals to include businesses owned and controlled by minorities, females, veterans, and persons with disabilities, etc., for its procurement and contracting processes,” she said. “However, those goals cannot contradict laws which the college must follow.”
For example, the college is required to comply with the Illinois Procurement Code and the Illinois Public Community College Act, which mandate certain contracts be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, Reedus said. As a result, the college must follow what is outlined in the procurement law and when there is a conflict between a goal and legislative mandate, the college must fulfill the mandate.
JJC has taken the initiative over the years to expand efforts to promote minority contractor participation in a number of ways. This includes joining the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce’s African American Business of Association, conducting meetings with local minority contractors and civic organizations, revising the JJC purchasing website, utilizing the Business Enterprise Program website, exhibiting at construction summits and business fairs, and adding verbiage to all solicitation documents encouraging the participation of certified vendors.
In accordance with board policy, JJC trustees approve all recommendations for awards with a dollar value of $25,000 or above at each board meeting.
When asked if the college has looked into partnering with the city of Joliet and Will County to share costs to complete a disparity study, Reedus said the three entities have not discussed the idea, “but the college is always open to new partnership ideas and opportunities.”
Will County Board Speaker Jim Moustis agreed.
“As far as I know, we have not had any discussion with JJC or the city of Joliet,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t pursue that. … It would be a reasonable approach to reduce the cost.”
Moustis said he feels every effort needs to be made to make sure that Will County is helping minority business owners.
“We make an asserted effort in Will County to reach out to our minority contractors,” he said. “That [means] we let them know what jobs are going on, we’re helping them set up partnerships with firms to earn a contract, and so forth.”
Will County has also conducted a number of outreach events in the past to reach those interested in contracting.
“I think they were fairly well attended,” Moustis said.
Kendall Jackson, community development director for the city of Joliet, said staff has been looking into the issue with minority contractor participation.
The city currently uses its website to provide a link in which venders can find out what proposals or contracts are available.
Protocol provides that staff puts together the bids giving the way for them to be advertised, posted to the city’s website, processed and analyzed prior to receiving a recommendation.
“Staff would be looking at the local bidders with respect to guidelines and ordinances that provide guidance to the councilmembers on those types of matters,” Jackson said.
Jackson said it is “premature” to give consideration to the idea of splitting costs with Joliet Junior College and Will County.
“We need to go back to that committee and talk about focus and scale of the disparity study,” he said. “At that point, I think the committee would weigh in.”
City staff plans on presenting information to the Joliet Diversity and Community Relations Committee at a later date.