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Lawmakers seek creation of board to oversee awarding of contracts

A 1987 Erie County law requires the county executive to create an advisory board to monitor how many county contracts are awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses, but no such board has been created since County Executive Dennis Gorski was in office in the 1990s.

But recent allegations that minority- and women-owned businesses are not getting their fair, legal share of county projects have galvanized some legislators to draft a resolution pushing for the creation of a Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Utilization Advisory Board.

"Without an advisory board in place to provide reports, we can't tell how effectively or ineffectively the county is meeting its goals set by the local laws," said Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte.

Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Whyte held a news conference Tuesday to call on County Executive Chris Collins to create an advisory board and to properly enforce the three minority- and women-owned business utilization laws. They want Collins to appoint the nine-member board within 90 days.

"It has to be established or he'll be in violation of the law; there's no other way around it," Grant said.

Lumon Ross, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York, said that without the advisory board's oversight, the county has not adhered to the minority and women participation rates set by its construction, procurement and professional services laws. The Chamber alleged earlier this year that those quotas were not being met.

But Grant Loomis, Collins' spokesman, said Whyte and Grant were acting politically. He said contracts awarded in 2010 met targets set by the laws and surpassed them in two of the three categories. The county's successful record makes an advisory board unnecessary, he said.

"The Collins administration is focused on results, not on adding to an already bloated bureaucracy by creating make-work committees," Loomis said. "Under the county executive, Erie County is not only meeting, but exceeding the goals established under the law pertaining to the awarding of construction, purchasing and professional contracts to women- and minority-owned businesses."

The law that mandates the creation of the advisory board also requires 10 percent of construction projects be given to minority businesses and 2 percent to women-owned companies.

Last year, the county met the construction goal for minority firms and doubled the requirement for women-owned companies, with 4 percent of contracts awarded, Loomis said.

A 1994 law on procurement contracts requires that 10 percent go to minority businesses and 2 percent to women-owned businesses, and Loomis said the county awarded 28 percent of those to minority businesses and 69 percent to women's businesses.

A professional service contract law requires 15 percent for minority-owned and 5 percent for women-owned businesses. The county awarded 43 percent of those projects to minorities and 21 percent to women last year, Loomis said.

But without an advisory board, Whyte said the Legislature is unaware of such numbers.

"Those statistics don't jibe with experience of businesses in the African-American community," she said. "This the first time we've gotten that data. If they are accurate, naturally it would be good news to hear that they are meeting the requirements, but they've never been filed with the Legislature, which is required by law."

Dorian Gaskin, an African-American general contractor, said he has been awarded about six county procurement contracts, but his bids for construction projects have been unsuccessful. Gaskin, a member of the Unity Contractors Association, a minority-women trade organization, said other members also feel their bids are overlooked.

Gaskin said the contractors might file a class-action suit against the county if the advisory board isn't created.

Loomis said the county's numbers are well-documented, legitimate public records. He added the county isn't entirely opposed to creating the advisory board and will see if the resolution passes.

"What should matter are the results, and the numbers speak for themselves," he said.