Nearly one year after a special city panel was set up to oversee the allocation of city contracts to minority entrepreneurs, none of the estimated $85 million in money available for those firms has been committed.
The oversight panel, known as the D.C. Minority Business Opportunity Commission, has instead been plagued by Internal dissension, political maneuvering and what one faction believes are efforts by Joseph P. Yeldell, general assistant to the mayor, to usurp the commission's authority.
Last week, commission vice chairman Milton G. Carey resigned in protest, only weeks after the commission's chairman, James L. Denson, quit to accept appointment to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
"The entire history of the commission has been one of frustration, hostility, maneuvering for power and of domination by Mr. Yeldell," Carey said in a March 5 letter of resignation to Mayor Walter E. Washington.
"You assigned Mr. Yeldell the responsibility of assisting the commission and its staff in the implementation of the law," Carey wrote to the mayor. "But such an arrangement has not borne fruit, as evidence by the bottom line, which reveals not one penny of D.C. budget [WORD ILLEGIBLE] curement has flown to minority entrepreneurs."
Yeldel said last week that he also wishes that contracts could have been awarded by now. But, he said, money will be allocated within the next six weeks and that all of the contracts - 23 per cent of all th funds the city depends on contracts this year - would be let before Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Yeldell blamed the internal difference within the seven-member panel on Carey. "Milton Carey has had his own ax to grind from the beginning. What he wanted to do was to have it separate the way he wanted it to operate," Yeldell said. "Milton Carey has always wanted to control this thing and be the czar of contracts. We are not going to set up a commission for his convenience."
Another member of the commission, Milton White, said, "I think Mr. Yeldell if probably the mayor's representative. The role that he has in anyog our troubles minght be better expressed by him. But I do know the situation has been very difficult.
"I am actually personally offended by the official attitude toward this commission," White said. "If it weren't for the fact that my resigning would just let in someone who would so nothing, I would resign out out of protest and outrage.
"As a black man, I'm ashamed to be associated with this particular situation," White said.
Sam Eastman, the mayor's pree Secretary, said the mayor has delelated responsibility for the commission to Yeldell and is satisfied with the commission's progress.
Eastman said that when the council passed the bill it appropriated no money for operation of the commission. Because of this and the inability to find a qualified person, according to Yeldell, the commission still has no executive director.
Under the commission's auspices, three contracts worth $1.6 million have been given to minority-owned firms. But those funds came from a special local public works grant given to the city by the federal government.
Establishment of the commission was one of several efforts made by local home-rule government that was elected in 1974 to involve minorities, who constitutemore than 70 percent of the city's population, in government.
On May 18, 1976, the council passed on a 12-to-0 vote a bill authorizing establishment of the commission and providing that 25 percent of the contracts that the city entered into each year would go to minority-owned firms.
Mayor Washington vetoed the measure. He said it would restrict his right as mayor to award city contracts, would provide undersirable limitations on his ability to choose persons to seve on the commission and might be unconstitutional.
Five months later, however, a nearly identical version of the measure was passed and this time it was signed by the mayor. The law became effective last March 29, and it was anticipated then that the first contracts would be let by Oct. 1. But, critics contend, immediately after its establishment, the panel began to teh plagued by troubles.
Prior to home rule, Mayor Washington had issued an executive order asking that efforts be made to give "reasonalbe amount" of city subcontracts to minority firms.
James W. Baldwin, the city's human rights director, had interpreted that language to mean 25 percent. However, there was no legally enforceable goal.
In 1975 Baldwin reported that minority firms has recieved 6.7 percent of the city's construction contracts, 2.4 percent of the servicecontracts negotiated through competitive bidding and 32 percent of the contracts awarded through negotiations.
Several representatives of minority firms who testify before the City Council during consideration of the bill said that nearly 100 minority construction firms capable of doing 34 percent of the city's business existed. But unless these firms received greater assistance from the City Council, the representative said, the firms would be unable to win contracts in open competition with large white-owned firms.
Only six members were appointed to the minority business opportunity commission after it was establiched in March 1977 and those six were sharply divided on who should be chairman. Carey, president of the Metropolitan Contracts Association, had the support of White, president of Afro-American Daranamics, Inc., and Peter Taylor of Community Electric Inc. of Hyattsville. Two other members - both strong Denson, executive vice president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, for commission chairman. Those two were Charlotte Chapman a housewife, and William T. Wright, general manager of Capitol Cab Co.
On May 31, the Carey group had proposed the names of three persons who would be willing to serve in the seventh spot, but none was chosen. Yeldell said last week that this was because none was "acceptable by the mayor." All three had been endorsed by the major's Task Force on Construction Problems as well as the Washington Area Construction Industry Task Force.
Instead, in August 1977, the major appointed William T. Syphax, president of Syphax Enterprises in Arlington, as the seventh member. Syphax broke the deadlock over the commission chairmanship by voting for Denson.
The commission has spent most of its first 11 months developing guidelines for certiying eligibility of firms and trying to establish a "set-aside market" - a group of city contracts that would be reserved for minority firms.
Yeldell said a special Inter-Agency Council for Minority Procurement, composed of city department heads, will soon award the contracts. Each city agency must submits plans to the commission, which monitors the letting of the contracts to certified firms. If the commission feels that the 25 percent goal is not being met, it can intervene and award select specific contracts in each agency to be given to minority firms.
Most of Carey's complaints were contained in a Feb. 15 minority report to the major on progress of the commission. The minority report took the form of a point-by-point rebuttal to the official commission report, written by Yeldell and signed by Denson, who was then still chairman.
Carey said city agencies had been slow in responding to requests for information and that Yeldell had tried to circumvent the commission by operating directly with the interagency council.
Other contractors familiar with operations of the commission, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, consurred with many of Carey's contentions.
One contractor said Yeldell and Mrilyn Akers, who formerly worked in the contracts division of the Department of Human Resources when Yeldell was its director, run the commission in a secretive way. Akers, on loan from DHR, is principal staff person for the commission.
"It's difficult to get anything done because unless it's doen their way, it doesn't get done," the contractor said.
Yeldell, whose contracting and leasing activities as DHR director have been the subject of several newspaper articles and are now being investigated by a role in overseeing the contract operations.
"Nobody is more sensitive about contracts being let in this program than me," Yeldell said. "I've had enough of an involvement with contracting that I'm going to make sure that this thing goes down right."
He noted that the D.C. corporation counsel's office had written an opinion saying that Carey, who helped to draft the legislation establishing the committee, could be in conflict of interest because Carey is a paid employe of organizations whose members seek certification by the commission.
Principal Deputy Corporation Counsel Louis P. Robbins said because of that Carey should not be allowed to vaote on certification of firms who are members of the Metropolitan Contractors Association.
In his letter of resignation, Carey said he did not see where his role as head of the nonprofit organization should be in conflict with his membership on the commission.
Yeldell said he is not sure when the Denson and Carey vacancies would be filled and that they could be left vacant. He said he believes the mayor's administration might ask the City Council to amend the legislation to allow more "public" members.
Currently, only one public member is allowed. Three others must come from the Washington Area Construction Industry Task Force (which is basically an umbrella group of local construction firm representatives). Those seats were given to Carey, Denson and Taylor.
Two others came from minority suppliers of goods, services or other non-contruction materials (White and Wright). Another, Syphax, is a minority construction contractor who has acted as a general contractor. Chapman is the public member.