This week, the Economic Opportunity Review Committee, the Living Wage and Benefits Committee, and the Veterans Advisory Committee met in City Council chambers. These committees, unlike others that meet on the fourth floor of City Hall, are not made up of council members. Instead, their membership consists of community members who report their findings to City Council.
Economic Opportunity Review Committee- Sept. 9, 2019
“This committee was formed by Councilman Goode, and it is a committee to provide oversight to Equal Opportunity Plans (EOPs),” Harper, the deputy director of the Department of Commerce, said. “We typically invite different actors who have different EOPs to come in and report out on the EOP. If they’re not good, this committee can make recommendations to City Council for debarment if we need to.”
Harper, who chairs the committee which meets quarterly, said the committee also releases important information that could be useful to minority owned businesses, including Minority, Women, or Disabled Owned Enterprises (M/W/DSBEs).
“We invite other organizations that are doing things,” Harper said. “People come and report out on big projects with the City, how we’re providing oversight, so anything to do with M/W/DSBE and inclusion we report out of this committee.”
While the committee performs an important economic and inclusionary function, Harper said there is a lack of knowledge about its work.
“Nobody knows about it,” Harper said. “We put it out, it’s on the calendar but it’s really important, and people that care about economic inclusion should come and sit in and listen and can even provide public testimony if they like.”
Nicholas Jann, director of Data & Policy for the Office of Economic Opportunity, presented preliminary statistical information relating to contracting of M/W/DSBE businesses in the city of Philadelphia for the 2019 fiscal year.
“Total contract commitments, which basically means all of the for-profit contracting that the city does, the total contract commitments were $695 million dollars,” Jann said. “Of that, the M/W/DSBE utilization was $237.5 million, or 34.17%.”
According to Jann, of the $237.5 million, minority owned businesses received $153.1 (22.03%), and businesses owned by women received $84.4 (12.13%).
White female owned firms received $84.2 million, African American firms $107.6 million, Asian American firms $24.6 million, Hispanic firms $18.9 million, and Native American/Pacific Islander firms $1.5 million.
“If you add in the quasi-public contracting, which are organizations that are responsible for (things like) housing, and industrial development, that the city has some influence on but not necessarily decision making in terms of the dollars,” Jann said.
For these organizations, Jann said the total spent increases to $1.2 billion and the M/W/DSBE utilization is then $346.2 million (30.6%). With the breakdown of MBE firms receiving $226.5 million, WBE $119.8 million.
Living Wage and Benefits Committee- Sept. 10, 2019
The committee is chaired by Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer, and also meets quarterly to oversee the city’s 21st Century Wage Law.
“The current minimum wage in the city is $13.25 an hour,” Lazer said. “And we’ll get to $15 over the next few years. So when anyone who has a contract with the City want to pay their employees less than $13.25, they have to put in a waiver request that comes before this committee and give reasons why.”
Veterans Advisory Committee- Sept. 11, 2019
The chairman, George Ginder, said the committee exists to help keep veterans informed of program and benefits of which they can avail themselves, and where they can seek help if needed.
“We make recommendations to Council based on what we hear from the Veterans Committee,” Ginder said. “If there’s something that Council needs to hear about, we get involved. We’re kind of like the eyes and ears for council (regarding veteran’s issues).”
Testifying at the meeting was Dr. Althea Hankins, director of the Aces Museum in Germantown. The museum honors Black and minority veterans from World War II.
“Our three major programs are Memorial Day, 9/11, and Veterans Day,” Hankins said after the meeting. “From 12-4 p.m., Monday to Thursday, people can come free of charge. We’re also a veterans service organization, so veterans who need help can come to us and we will help them, we will feed them and refer them.”
Regarding the name of the museum, Hankins said the intention was to make a derogatory term for African Americans into something positive.
“Aces is because in the 1940s, they used to call black people spades,” Hankins said. “So we said, ‘If you have to be a spade, you know you were the Ace.’”
Hankins pointed out the motto of the Aces Museum is, “Where everyday is Veterans Day.” She said the public should be more aware of the struggles some veterans face daily.
“Usually you hear extremes,” Hankins said. “You hear when things are going very, very bad, or very good. The younger generation, they don’t have the support like my father and mother. But if they are alone, it’s worse in terms of suicide risk.”
Hankins wants people to know they’re there for support.
“They can come by any day,” Hankins said. “And they will be made to feel welcomed.”
Also appearing and testifying at the meeting was Dr. Doris “Lucki” Allen, whose nickname came from the seemingly constant good luck she has as a youth while in a traveling band with her sister. Allen served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.
“I was a spy-catcher working in counterintelligence,” Allen said of her time in Vietnam. “I also called a couple of things regarding rockets around our parameter and they (more senior officers) weren’t listening. But they listened after 117 secondary explosions up to 100 feet hight.”
The event Allen predicted became known as the Tet Offensive.
The California native makes occasional trips to Philadelphia specifically to participate in Aces events.
“The reason I come to Philadelphia is because this is the only museum of its kind that I have seen,” Allen said. “Everybody should know about it. I wish they could feel what I feel.”
Commander James Douglas served as a special operator during the Vietnam War. He said this his unit was responsible for, among other things, building runways and laying communications cables.
“We were the first ones in and the last ones out.” Douglas said.
Douglass praised Dr. Allen’s skill as a counterintelligence officer and said that women played a vital but overlooked role in the war.
“A lot of people think that women were only nurses during the war,” Douglas said. “But women were doing a lot of other things.”
Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a master’s degree in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.
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