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Walsh Issues Executive Order To Make City Contracts More Equitable

Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On Thursday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced an executive order that sets goals for diversity in contracting and procurement for the city.

This comes a day after a federal discrimination complaint was filed by the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), the Greater Boston Latino Network and Amplify Latinx, asserting that the city — as evidenced by a 700-page disparity study it commissioned that was recently published — fell short on its effort to address race inequality when it comes to awarding contracts to qualified business owners of color.

The executive order, guided by recommendations from the study, allocates 25% of city funding to go toward businesses owned by people of color and women (15% for women-owned businesses and 10% for those owned by people of color); requires the yearly budget process to include reports of how said businesses are faring; and it creates a program that will oversee the work.

The study, which recommended an executive order be made to fix economic inequality, showed that businesses owned by people of color accounted for less than 2% of city contracts in several categories. The mayor said he knew the outcome wasn't going to be great, which is why he said the city had the study done in the first place.

"I have never run away from these numbers or this challenge," Walsh said. "I embrace the findings in this study, because it now gives us a roadmap on how we move forward. Reversing decades of inequality requires thoughtful collaboration and rigorous work."

Walsh said this "is the most structural reform city contracting has had in over a generation."

But it's not quite the outcome complainants were looking for. In response to Thursday's executive order, the group Lawyers for Civil Rights released a statement saying "federal intervention is still needed." Calling the executive order "vague," the statement said Walsh's remedy "is insufficient to address the racial crisis surrounding the City of Boston’s public contracting."

"It leaves much of the necessary creation, implementation, and enforcement uncertain. The executive order is much too vague to address the entrenched problem. This ongoing crisis requires deliberate, intentional, and concrete action," the statement reads. "The City should have convened community-based groups and MBEs [Minority Business Enterprises] to fully understand the scope and scale of the racial crisis, and to affirmatively solicit recommendations and suggestions grounded in the experience of MBEs that have been injured and harmed by the City’s discriminatory practices."

Earlier this week, during a virtual news conference, Segun Idowu who heads the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts said with Walsh nearing his time to depart the city for a new job as the country's new labor secretary, he'd rather wait to work with a new mayor. Walsh has yet to be officially approved for the role, but had a smooth confirmation hearing.

"We'll look forward to working with acting-mayor Kim Janey who has shown, over her tenure as city councilor and city council president, that this is an issue that she deeply cares about," Idowu said. "It affects her community and her constituents, so we'll look to her bold leadership to address this and not any weak executive orders that come from this administration."

Before announcing the executive order, Walsh spend nearly two-and-a-half minutes listing the initiatives and programs aimed at addressing inequality that have started under his administration, including the formation of the Equity & Inclusion Unit in the city's Office of Economic Development.

"This is something very easily that, as a city, we could have just put away and not dealt with," Walsh said. "It wasn't fair for the next administration who's going to come into City Hall and not have a roadmap on how to turn it around. What this [executive order] does today is give a roadmap."

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Quincy Walters Twitter Reporter
Quincy Walters is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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