In a recent column, attorney Michael Coard states, “When I say and write stuff, I want to make sure I can back it up with irrefutable evidence.”
Unfortunately, there is abundant irrefutable evidence that disputes Mr. Coard’s claim about his own diligence, and the entire premise for his column.
Any Philadelphia Tribune reader who has been following developments in Mayor Kenney’s Rebuild PHL program over the last one and a half years would know that there are two reasons why Rebuild today is still a concept instead of reality: Ongoing litigation over Mayor Kenney’s Beverage Tax to fund the $500 million program and City Council’s ongoing efforts to ensure that a workforce representative of Philadelphia’s population is ensured participation in economic activity associated with Rebuild.
Not only are Council members insisting on a local, diverse, and inclusive workforce; we envision Rebuild PHL, the largest Philadelphia public works initiative in a generation, as having a dramatic, lasting impact on historically exclusive trade unions.
Through Rebuild, we seek to transform more than our parks, recreation centers and libraries; we seek to transform Black and brown communities that have been harmed by historical discrimination and disinvestment.
We were surprised to see the inaccurate claim that Mayor Kenney has been “taking the lead” on Rebuild workforce diversity requirements printed in the Tribune — especially because the white-owned Philadelphia Inquirer has relentlessly criticized Council for our insistence on rock-solid commitments from his administration on diversity requirements.
Fact check: The Mayor’s initial Rebuild plan called for just two privately run organizations — the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the Free Library Foundation — to manage Rebuild, both of which lack track records of hiring diverse and inclusive workforces. Black and brown members of Council immediately objected when this plan was introduced in late 2016. Since that time, we have crafted legislation expanding Rebuild Project User contract opportunities to 21 entities that reflect our diverse population and have ensured public oversight of the contracting process.
Since December 2016, when our concerns about Mayor Kenney’s initial plan were circulated in a memo, the Fairmount Park Conservancy has diversified beyond its one staff member and one non-ex-officio Board member of color. Newly appointed Executive Director Jaime Gauthier, a Black woman, has been a welcome addition. For members of the public who view these recent hires cynically, rest assured that the City will have flexibility in choosing among much more diverse organizations to partner with on Rebuild, thanks to legislative requirements authored by Council.
Given this factual context — much of which has been reported by Tribune reporters — it is astonishing that editors would allow such obviously false claims to be published without verification.
Here’s another fact check: The administration is required to conduct an annual disparity assessment of City contract workforce diversity by law — thanks to aggressive legislative action taken by former Councilmember At-Large Wilson Goode, Jr. and Majority Whip Blondell Reynolds Brown, before Mayor Kenney took office. In his current role as Council’s Senior Policy Advisor, Goode informed our effort to set higher diversity goals for Rebuild beyond those recommended in the mandatory disparity assessment — as the administration initially intended. If executed in good faith, the Council-amended Rebuild program will have at minimum 45 percent of workforce hours go to men of color based on their actual availability, up from the already mandatory 40 percent.
Whether the City hits Council’s 45 percent goal is up in the air, however, given that the administration recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the building and construction trades that only committed to 40 percent non-white or male participation. We have not seen reporting in the Tribune questioning the administration on this, by the way.
More facts missing from Mr. Coard’s column:
• The two new enforcement specialists hired by the Office of Economic Opportunity to monitor Economic Opportunity Plan (EOP) compliance were the result of Council initiative led by Councilmember Reynolds Brown. Those specialists will focus mostly on business diversity, not workforce diversity as claimed by Mr. Coard.
• The Mayor’s Office of Labor Standards is required to enforce City contract requirements for workforce diversity and apply penalties because of legislation offered by Council President Darrell L. Clarke in the first year of Mayor Kenney’s term. Council also approved more enforcement positions within that office.
• Councilmember Cindy Bass pushed for protocol that empowers District Council members to protect residents by giving them the ability to deny projects that do not have community approval.
• Council has expanded inclusive economic participation by lowering the monetary threshold for City contracts requiring workforce diversity goals through EOPs from $250,000 to $100,000. This was also due to legislation authored by Council President Clarke.
City Council is unapologetic for our insistence that workforce programs established under Rebuild result in greater representation of minorities within the building trade unions — if the building trade unions are awarded Rebuild work, as the Kenney administration intends. Diversifying the building trades is one of the key objectives of Rebuild, along with community engagement and equity.
City Council intends to ensure that all of the promises of Rebuild are kept and will not take short-cuts or compromise on minority inclusion. Another fact for Mr. Coard: Council will have the option to withhold approval of proposed Rebuild project contracts if inclusion targets are not met — a concession won by Council from the Kenney administration.
We are disappointed that months of diligent work by Black and Latino Council members and staff were disregarded so easily in the pages of the Tribune. We hope our corrections are taken in the constructive spirit with which they are offered.