Mayor Marion Barry, in a meeting last week with local minority businessmen, spelled out for the first time how he plans to award 25 percent of all city contract dollars to minority firms.
"This is going to be an open, frank discussion and I don't feel you should leave here feeling this administration is not moving ahead," Barry told more than 50 minority businessmen at the meeting.
Under a 1976 city law, the District is required to ensure that 25 percent of all city contract dollars go to minorities. The mayor said he plans to meet his campaign promise to bring the city's poor percentage of minority contracting up to the level required by law.
His plan includes:
Filling two vacancies on th seven-member Minority Business Opportunity Commission (MBOC).
Directing the acting head of the MBOC to develop an "action plan" by the end of April to find out the problems minority businessmen face when doing business with the city.
Providing minorities with early notification of contracts scheduled to be awarded by the city, including contracts for work on the District Convention Center and the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Plan.
Making city department heads accountable for individual minority contracting statistics for their respective departments.
Announcing a major housing program this week to tear boards off 70 percent of the vacant city-owned buildings in the District, and providing work for minority contractors to rehabilitate them. (The mayor outlined the details of that program at a press conference Monday.)
During the hour-long session, Barry told the businessmen that he remembered when he used to "take the FICA and W-2 money and hope next week I could put it back in the payroll." He explained that he was well aware of the problems minority businessmen face.
Barry, the former director of PRIDE Inc., also emphasized that the minority contracting program has to be a "two-way street."
"You must go beyond where you believe you can go," he said. "The government can't be the only hopeful point. There are going to be hard decisions to be made. There are going to have to be some joint ventures."
Barry said he invited 55 minority businessmen to the meeting, but only nine of them were certified with the MBOC -- a city requirement that enables minority firms to do business with the city.
"If the Minority Business Opportunity Commission is going to work, it is going to have to be aware of all minority firms," he said, urging firms to register with the MBOC.
The mayor said Courtland Cox, recently appointed acting director of the MBOC, would be responsible for finding out which minority firms are available for city contracting jobs and then for trying to solve the problems they face when they do business with the city.
He said one of the major problems minority firms have in dealing with the city is the procedure for payment. "I know of several firms that almost went bankrupt waiting to get paid by the city."
The mayor responded to a question about restrictive bonding requirements that often keep minorities from bidding on contracts by saying, "We will study this problem and see what can be worked out."
During the discussion, Sam Starobin, director of the Department of General Services who recently announced that he is resigning, said he was concerned that the city minority contracting law "could be converted to the wrong hands."
Starobin said he was not only concerned about "white-front companies" -- firms supposedly run by blacks, although actually controlled by whites -- but about black "brokers" who are awarded contracts and later turn the work and profits over to white companies.
Barry said he hoped that minority businessmen who hear of such practices will "whisper" in the administration's ear about them.