As my second editorial, I want to say how disappointed I am with Bexar County and the perception that exists that the Black Chamber was not ready for prime time. I am disappointed in the Alamo City Black Chamber for not being responsive to counter the stories that portray Black businesses as not being capable. I am furious at the number of White people who have attacked the merits of helping the Black business community and further deprive us of $1.8M to improve the opportunity for us to build capacity in a wide variety of areas. I am disappointed in the County Manager, David Smith for pulling the deal based on the haters of Black people. The fingers are pointing and at the end of the day Black Businesses have a black eye for how Bexar County reneged on the deal.
Judge Nelson Wolff, SAGC- Doug McMurry, Chair SWMBE Chris Forbrich, County Manager David Smith
I want to discuss who are the actors in this bad news cycle. The initiator of the grant, Judge Nelson Wolff and his assistant Dwayne Robinson; the recipients of the grant, The Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce and the Black Contractors Association; the Director of Bexar County's SWMBE Department, Renee Watson; the Commissioner's Court; the Bexar County Citizens oversight for SWMBE, Chris Forbrich, and the AGC's Doug McMurry. There may be more but this is the cast.
Since I published last week, the SA Observer received an email that clearly supports the mostly Anglo AGC was targeting derailing the Bexar County deal. Doug McMurray writes after KSAT news broadcast a segment about the grant helping Black businesses in goods and supplies:
On Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 11:35 AM, Doug McMurry <email@example.com> wrote:
Nothing against florists, but as you know the program was initially designed to help black construction companies. County Judge Wolff did not say, “Bring me 20 florists” when the county funding was approved. He was pretty clear in his public remarks, he wanted black contractors successfully bidding on county construction projects. It may be appropriate to meet with the Judge and Commissioners to review the goals of the program and what role BCA will play in the future.
Executive Vice President
The San Antonio Chapter of AGC
(210) 349-4921 .
The question why would a non-African American care and put so much time to question the program meant to help Black businesses overall? The answer is Doug McMurry was chasing the money trail. He envisioned most of the dollars were being committed for construction, where he would be able to get his organization to receive money from the grant to help "train" the construction firms.
He's not the only Anglo with interest. Chris Forbrich has been told by SWMBE participants to have a 'certain agenda' that is against Blacks with NO intentions of seeing Black businesses to be successful. Forbrich was appointed by Kevin Wolff (go figure). The position of denying the Black chamber comes because the community leader has no concept or understanding of the dire problems associated with the facts of Bexar County literally starving Black businesses in the contracting process. If he only would read the study of the University of Texas San Antonio report that made the claim, Bexar County was also creating disparity by their contracting methodology and making the Black business community weaker is my point. Forbrich and his newly resurrected SWMBE group have politicized their opportunity to engage on the issue. Maybe, Forbrich truly believes the Bexar County Mentor-Protege program is effective for Black businesses because some minority businesses have appeared to graduate with some success. The lie is the program is not an investment that has worked for Black Businesses in Construction. This program has not produced dollars spent with the Black Business community that would make this a choice to sink more dollars into. In defense of Judge Nelson Wolff, he is smart enough to know and see the results from the program that Forbrich called "duplicative" has not bore any fruit for Black business. If anything, I have also received this old picture from 2013, with Doug McMurry (AGC) and Rene Watson (Bexar County's SWMBE Director) that came from the Mentor-Protege program expectations they had when the program was launched. What I want to see are the dollars spent with the Black firms that have participated in the program that AGC-Bexar County have trained. If my memory serves correct, Black businesses have received less than 1% overall over the last 7 years. What new Black primes have been developed by the AGC-Bexar County partnership since inception? This program has not delivered for Black Businesses and Forbrich should not have recommended to provide the funding to the County's program simply because the Director or even AGC says it exists. Judge Wolff is very smart and Robinson knew the weakness of what existed. This change was necessary.
I also wondered why did the Bexar County Manager, David Smith, make his decision to suspend the program? The pressure from Forbrich and McMurry must have been overwhelming. The Commissioner's Court voted in favor of the initiative with the absence of Tommy Calvert. It would seem that if Smith was to derail the deal, instead of penning a letter to stop the program, he would have asked the questions to other organizations- who else could be added to the grant, that could deliver? If the Alamo City Black Chamber was not responsive to his calls, then add the NAACP, then add the FCC, then add the African-American Chamber of San Antonio. Dammit add to another organization but don't make a mockery of the community which you have shut out for years.
The first we understood was Bexar County Judge Wolff wanted to improve Black Businesses and in large part, the repeated failures and neglect of Black Businesses by the County. While the County puts on one of the largest diversity business forums in the country, the one day expo has done nothing to lift Black Businesses in particular. While Black people contribute collectively to Bexar County taxes at 6 to 7%, Black Businesses receive less than 1% of prime contracts. The County knew how bad their support had been and did not comply with Open Record requests for at least 7-years. The people responsible for the drought include all the Commissioners, Bexar County's SWMBE Office and their SWMBE Committee.
After reading KROV news, they reported, "Judge’s office is being accused of a bid rigging scheme to set up the Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce to get $370,000 dollars from Bexar County for 5-years, without an RFP, which is illegal under state procurement law. Allegedly, the contract was signed prior to approval by Bexar County's Commissioner’s Court; in addition, Commissioner's Court documents were falsified to appear as though the small business department, directed by Renee Watson, had given budgetary authority to fund the Alamo City Black Chamber’s program. However, emails indicate that Watson’s department did not develop the program, because they already had a program in place, and that the duplicative program was organized out of County Judge Nelson Wolff’s office."
My message to Bexar County is simple - get your act together and provide a solution for the mess you brought onto our community. The Black community does not care about who is wrong or partially at fault. In fact, the County Manager needs to answer the call to apologize for continuing to screw us over!
And if this is also true, "Sources have told the San Antonio Observer that the scheme would have cut the small business department’s budget in half, and it could have led to Renee Watson, Bexar County's SWMBE Director, being fired." Again, from Black business perspective, what has been gained through the department's effort? Can we see the graph that shows the dollars since expanding the department?
We do agree with the KROV News report, "The Association of General Contractors (AGC), Executive Vice President Doug McMurray, sent an email to Bexar County requesting review of the contract. The group, along with other stakeholders, questioned the resources in the County Judge’s program, as well as the capacity of the Alamo City Black Chamber, which has no executive director to implement the program. Sources also indicate that the AGC, and other organizations allied with Judge Wolff, allegedly conceived of the plot to undermine efforts to help Black businesses and hurt Commissioner Tommy Calvert, hoping to create a cloud of investigation over the commissioner that now sits over the County Judge’s office. Commissioner Tommy Calvert was absent from the meeting that approved the contract on June 19th and did not vote for the illegal contract."
The question is what will Bexar County Manager David Smith do now that he has suspended the contract based on the recommendation to terminate the deal by Bexar County's citizen group, SWMBE Program Advisory Committee, chaired by Chris Forbrich? We are still waiting for the answers! Silence usually admits guilt, while clean-up and book washing are ill priorities, until an answer can be drummed up.