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Friday, February 3, 2023

MBE aka Minority Businesses Eliminated: Thanks to waning interest in Maryland’s MBE program due to lack of oversight, enforcement 

Thirty years ago, while attending a meeting of the Baltimore City Board of Estimates, I met a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) warrior known as Jolly. He was the president of the Maryland’s Minority Contractors Association. His full name was Arnold Merion Jolivet, Sr., an attorney who was an alumnus of Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Law School.

I wondered how this dedicated minority business advocate could have earned the nickname Jolly. He was at that Board of Estimates (BOE) meeting raising holy heck about the lack of Black Business inclusion on Baltimore City contracts, which meant the denial of millions of dollars for Black businesses in the construction trade and other industries. Jolly was one of Baltimore’s most revered fighters and advocates for Black business inclusion, equity and parity in City and State procurement contracts.

Today, I am wondering what Jolly would think about the current state of Maryland’s Minority Business Enterprise program based on the fact that only seven out of Maryland’s top 22 state agencies are reaching the state’s procurement goal of 29 percent. The statewide average is a little of over 14 percent. African American businesses and other minorities are losing out on a BILLION DOLLARS in annual MBE/WBE revenue. Reviewing the top 15 state agencies that did over $100 million in annual contracts, they collectively averaged 14 percent, less than 50 percent of the state’s 29 percent procurement goal in fiscal year 2019. 

Blacks and other minority businesses are losing out on serious money here in Maryland. This hurts our communities; our competitiveness; hinders our progress in creating Black wealth; decreases employment; entrepreneurial and housing opportunities; adversely affects neighborhood and community development efforts; and seriously erodes the level of public trust in government agencies and elected officials. Worse yet, it sets the breeding ground for criminal activities that continue to flourish in neglected and underserved communities. 

Two years ago, I was conducting a series of diversity meetings with the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism Development and the Maryland Tourism Development Board. Newly hired Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz did not seem surprised nor annoyed that the agency she was placed in charge of was only doing three percent towards the state’s 29 percent MBE procurement goal. Secretary Schulz has thrown her hat in the ring as a Republican candidate for Governor in the next year’s primary. 

Leave it to me to check into her agency’s latest results in MBE procurement. The 2020 annual report of the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs (formerly GOMA) shows that in fiscal year 2019, under the leadership of Secretary Schulz, her agency, the Maryland Department of Commerce did a miserable 9.09 percent in MBE procurements, less than one third of our state’s 29 percent goal. Her campaign literature quotes her saying “We’ve come a long way over the past few years, but there is still so much work to do. I’m running for Governor so we can fulfill the great promise and potential of our state.” We have heard that rhetoric during every campaign season.

I also checked on the MBE record of another gubernatorial candidate— Peter Franchot, the long-serving Comptroller of Maryland. Franchot has been somewhat of an enigma, a Democrat, but often siding with the Republican Governor on matters coming before the Maryland Board of Public Works. 

In January 2019, while looking over the State Board of Public Works contract awards, I was searching for detailed information on Governor Hogan’s funding allocation for the Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass statues that were erected in State Capitol Building. While searching, I ran across a state award from University Maryland University College (UMUC) showing it was seeking the Board of Public Works approval for two advertising contracts valued at $250 million each— totaling a half a billion dollars. What perplexed me about these two digital advertising contracts was the lack of any MBE/WBE procurement requirements. UMUC received a waiver even though Maryland has a mandated goal of 29 percent for large-scale procurements. 

I held a series of meetings with their chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and they were quite surprised when I challenged them. Although not much happened, they did change their name from UMUC to University Maryland Global Campus. They continue to receive major contracts from the Department of Defense to teach English to American allies overseas.

Comptroller Franchot was present the day that the UMUC sought BPW approval of the two $250 million contracts. He voted on and approved this injustice without asking a single question. This cost MBE/WBE over $150 million in potential lost revenue. Peter was clearly not sensitive nor showed any interest in questioning the lack of minority businesses inclusion on these two large multimillion State contracts. For fiscal year 2019, the GOSMWBA report reveals that Franchot only reached 15.34 percent of the goal of 29 percent of his Comptroller’s office procurement contract awards. Yet, he is on the campaign trail promising Blacks he is going to be the one who gets Baltimore fixed once and for all.

Who is questioning the Governor’s use of executive privilege in awarding millions in emergency sole source no-bid contracts during the COVID 19 pandemic? Who is monitoring the young Mayor’s handling of $641 million dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funds? Is his staff experienced in ensuring fairness, inclusion and equity in such a huge financial undertaking, especially in a city with huge financial woes including a City Hall that has been raided by FBI agents twice in the last decade over bad money, deals.   

Louis Fields is a freelance journalist based in Baltimore. Lou hosts the Black Women Owned Business Showcase & Marketplace. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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