| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Is the city shortchanging opportunities for locally owned businesses?
City Councilor Justin Hurst has asked Yung No, the director of Internal Audit, to conduct an audit into how much money the city is spending with city businesses in the past five years and how many of those businesses are owned by women, veterans, Blacks and Latinos.
He wrote in his request, “It is also important to know how this information is being tracked and whether we are meeting our target goals as a city. To that end, I am hopeful that you will be able to find out what procurement goals the city has set for contracting with local businesses as well as those owned by women, veterans, Blacks and Latinos and whether we have attained those goals each year. Knowing both the percentages and the amount of money spent in procurement contracts with these sub-groups can prove vitally important as the city focuses on recovering from the pandemic.”
He also requested the following: “In addition, I would like for you to conduct a similar audit on all new Covid-19 related contracts that the city of Springfield has procured since the pandemic began roughly a year ago. Many businesses in the city have already closed their doors for good, while others are on the brink of failure. If we can provide these businesses with a lifeline through a city contract moving forward, then it is incumbent upon us to do so. According to a study by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, women owned businesses have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic in comparison to their male counterparts and are less likely to experience a strong recovery in years to come. Even worse off are businesses owned by Blacks and Latinos, who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus as highlighted in The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s report on Covid-19 that focused on the Health and Wealth Effects in Black Communities titled’ Double Jeopardy’ and the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative’s report titled ‘The ongoing Impact of Covid-19 on Latino owned Businesses.’”
Hurst added, “Although I hope I am wrong, I have no doubt that this audit will reveal that the City of Springfield issues less than of its city contracts to Black and Latino businesses, yet Blacks and Latinos make up over half of the population in the city. I also believe that you will find that the city is nowhere near where it needs to be when it comes to procurement contracts going to women-owned business. And lastly, I think you will discover that a large percentage of city contracts are going to businesses outside of the City of Springfield.”
When asked by Reminder Publishing if this is the first time, such an audit has been conducted, Hurst said, “I have not seen an ordinance of this kind since I have been on the council.”
Hurst explained why he was requesting this audit now. “Two things: one, I’ve read multiple articles on what is happening in Boston and their demands for equity in contracts and thought to myself why not Springfield. The last article that I read was when three organizations filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city even after Mayor Walsh was set to issue his third executive order to increase percentages in city contracts going to white women and blacks and Latino owned businesses. I felt that we here in Springfield haven’t even scratched the surface of this issue and desperately need to do so before we are the subject of an investigation and discrimination lawsuit.
“Two, the second reason is that I was so disappointed in the lack of city owned sub-contractors and minorities in the redevelopment of the Mason Square fire station by Gordon Pulsifer that it made me question whether the city was doing its part. At the very least, we owe it to businesses to know where we stand as city and set some intentional goals if we are not where we think we should be.”
Reminder Publishing asked, “In terms of COVID-19 impact, is there any way to tell how many minority-owned businesses have been closed temporarily or permanently by the pandemic in the city? Would that be part of the COVID–19 audit?”
Hurst’s reply was, “That is a great question and one that will likely be asked in the future. I’m hopeful that we are tracking that information.”