Readers want to see Bexar County "Make it Happen" as
Black Businesses Deserve More
Black businesses responded "Make it Happen!" to last week’s cover story titled
“You're Fired!" (read it here) detailing my criticism of Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce Chairman Eddie Kirby and Parliamentarian Dr. Shelah Simmons. After a tough week, we still haven't heard from the chamber. Readers want to see Bexar County "Make it Happen" as Black businesses deserve more. This is not an issue of growing a chamber, this is an issue of growing Black businesses no matter who manages the $1.8M.
Bexar County Manager, David Smith; Photo: Public Domain
There were three responses that the community understands. The first is part-time leadership in a full-time business organization is unacceptable. If Eddie Kirby is employed by CPS Energy, he does not have the ability to meet with or respond to chamber members until he punches the clock to go home for the day. Since we don't have an Executive Director, the situation is totally different, the day to day leadership falls on the board. This was a concern voiced by members of Bexar County's Small, Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (SMWBE) Program Advisory Committee. Board Chairman Chris Forbrich recommended the money stay inside the County to be invested in the Mentor-Protege program of the County's Department of Small Business and Entrepreneurship heavily supported by the AGC organization.
Secondly, which is the most important, Black businesses are tired of decisions that sell us out for others who are called minority. Since we live in a city that is majority Hispanic or Latino, when Eddie Kirby and Shelah Simmons answered Commissioner Kevin Wolff's question wrong and gives a program designed to help Black business to all minority chamber members is flat out wrong. You would think a businessman and chair of a chamber would reach out to tell the chamber's story....not so! I personally waited to hear from Eddie Kirby but no such call has come in. In fact, some of the business owners picked up on the fact that the SA Observer is a lifetime member of the chamber with a board seat. Again, why would the Chairman not call a board member back EVER is ridiculous at best. But again, I understand. Really I don’t. Like Cole on Martin do your job. Returning phone calls is the easy part. Furthermore, no one likes to reach out to a person and not be called back, or even worse lied to as if you are going to call back.
"So where is the money?" one citizen ask on the SA Observer Facebook page. Great question. Let me break this down to you. Yes the opportunity was for the chamber and originally the Black Contractors to receive $1.8M over five years. Listen, people have written some crazy stuff about why is this needed. It is needed because on at least three different reports, Black business is proven not to be getting any real contracts with Bexar County. Political leaders would like for you to think the problem is based on lack of capacity, or availability, or small size of the Black community... the truth is Black businesses only until this last year saw the County's disparity and low contracting percentages - less than 1% with Black businesses. Yes there is a real crisis!
The University of San Antonio identified best practices that could help Bexar County build a business program to stimulate local AABE outreach, economic growth and development. Again, expert researchers say we have big problems with the Black business community. While the City of San Antonio has improved tremendously, the County's leadership tends to reject the success of the city in taking action and deliberate steps to improve a bad situation.
We need for the county to make it happen and before November elections. In fact the Alamo City Black Chamber according to the Bexar County Manager's office the money you have asked about still is reflected and included in next year's County budget. We were told County Manager David Smith will continue to meet with stakeholders, organized citizen groups, and elected officials to determine what's next.
One conclusion reached even before the "Your Fired" story. It is obvious that the chamber is not prepared to administer the grant. The Black Contractors who were originally in the equation to receive is also out of equation! Why? The Black
Contractors (BCA) never formed a legal organization entity and operated for years under the White dominated contractor group, the Association of General Contractors (AGC) organization. Whether the program money goes to the new County program or provided to the Bexar County Mentor-Protege Program, the big winner would be AGC. Of course, they have all the tools to teach Blacks how to be in business. This is the secondary problem, how to keep non-Black groups from taking the majority of money intended to benefit Black business people. As reported on KROV.com "The Association of General Contractors sent an email to Bexar County requesting review of the contract."
The other disturbing aspects is the chamber demonstrates serious crabs in the barrel mentalities. Again, I'm waiting on Annual Meeting notification so I can ask questions of the leadership that really needs to be addressed if Black businesses are to benefit. It has been stated that business members have not received renewal invoices based on if the chamber staff likes you or doesn't like you. Crazy as that sounds, we validated with at least two Black business owners with that very complaint. So, if Dr. Eddie Kirby doesn't want to face us, and doesn't want allegations of running the chamber like a private country club, then he should reply. I encourage him to after work when he is off.
Based on KROV.com news reporting of Stephen Price on July 26, 2018, it is perceived the initial County award was illegal. The SA Observer reached our logical conclusion that Black business should not anticipate the County Manager will repeat the same process and award a direct contract to our chamber and be open to the same criticism. Therefore, the Alamo City Black Chamber needs to call respected business
leaders within the community like Joe Linson, a past president of the chamber and currently the Chairman of Bexar County's African-American Business Enterprise Initiative (AABEI). He is also on the SWMBE of Bexar County. Joe could help the chamber put together a new team that will allow them to strengthen their ability to manage the award. This is what the County Manager has asked for Eddie Kirby to do in addition to meeting with Commissioner Tommy Calvert.
I applaud Dwayne Robinson, a person born and raised on the East Side, who works issues for Judge Nelson Wolff and now on the Economic and Community Development team as the Suburban Cities Coordinator, was responsible for extending himself to help the chamber but unfortunately the chamber never listened to Mr. Robinson. They wanted to do things their way. I am asking, how many failures can the chamber take being led by a non-Black business owners?
So here we are, based on the comments at Commissioners Court from Kirby and Simmons, is the County now considering turning the Black program into the minority program? We don't know but every minority organization is soliciting the manager to be chosen to manage the program.
Wasn't the main reason why Judge Wolff pushed the program because of record low utilization of African American businesses by Bexar County? Didn't UTSA's study show great disparity? Didn't the F grade by the Fair Contracting Coalition for Bexar County also indicate a major problem in our marketplace?
The County Manager is under the gun to make it happen. The Black community, and our thousands of readers want the money to be released but only to do what was intended which is to help lift Black businesses.
Here are some more reader comments:
"Just another political promise never meant to be followed thru on."
"This is some seriously racist nonsense... no excuses for wasting taxpayers money on this, I’m glad they’re not getting a dime!"
"While I believe that the money must be used as originally agreed upon, it's a mistake to think that Black capitalism is the solution to the economic woes of the Eastside."
"So what's going to shake the money free? From our position if the money is released San Antonio has no interest in helping black folk strive in business.. you can walk on the east side and see that."
As Bexar County works this $1.8 issue, they are also working a series of demands from the Fair Contracting Coalition that will impact Black business. The FCC submitted a comprehensive plan called the Diversity Action Plan to increase local minority procurement efforts. Again, David Smith, County Manager and County Judge Nelson Wolff met with the FCC almost 7 months ago. Judge Wolff stated he wanted to meet monthly with the FCC leadership and he would act to have the Commissioners vote on the Diversity Action Plan before November's election. Status... Still Pending!
Another complaint, to my surprise is the call to integrate San Antonio's Economic
Development Foundation (SAEDF) with a chamber representative from the African American chamber community and an Asian American chamber community. While the San Antonio Chamber, North Chamber, and the Hispanic Chamber have held permanent board seats, neither of our two Black chambers or the Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce have ever been offered to participate. Business leader, Christopher Herring, has taken the issue up with the SAEDF, Bexar County and the City of San Antonio. Members of the Fair Contracting Coalition met with the SAEDF executive board in August and the decision to integrate and remove the "apartheid system" has not occurred. Our board chair has provided me with the slides and we will put them on our website so you can see how basic the request is, but the power structure remains slow to do the right thing. Factually, in response to Mr. Herring's request, the Executive Director of Bexar County, David Marquez wrote a letter to the EDF's Executive Director to emphasize Bexar County's support of Diversity as a major reason to address the email complaints raised on Independence Day, July 4, 2018. The initial complaint to the EDF was received in 2013 when Herring was the President of the Alamo City Black Chamber. Status... Still Pending!
The last topic that is actually a good news story pertains to Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert Jr.'s request for substantial sponsorship support of the
Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce 2018 Annual Conference was approved in consent vote last week by the entire Court. The Bexar County Commissioner is scheduled to speak to the Texas Black Chamber to address how Black businesses should scale into international markets. SMWBE Director Rene Watson will showcase a booth to inform the conference participants about doing business with Bexar.
I suppose 1 out of 4 isn't bad... really Black people are used to being totally shut out.
We have to make things happen for ourselves!