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Published: 3/20/2003

County assailed on minority contracts

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

More than a year ago, the Lucas County commissioners said they'd be willing to track how much business the county was doing with minority-owned companies.

But with the addition of two new commissioners and the retirement of the board's only black member, a system has yet to be implemented.

Karen Ashford, chief executive officer of the Northwest Ohio Black Chamber of Commerce, said the county hasn't been responsive to minority-owned businesses. She said that has prompted the chamber to request documents from the county about contracts that have been awarded over the last five years.

“We're trying to stimulate a relationship with the county so that they look at minority participation on some of the contracts and make us aware of some of the opportunities the county has,” Ms. Ashford said yesterday. “Basically, we haven't heard anything.”

A letter she sent to the commissioners last week expressed frustration with Edward Ciecka, the county administrator, who she described as being “entirely nonresponsive.”

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said she was “shocked” to hear that Mr. Ciecka hadn't been responsive.

“We should make sure that anyone who wants to do business with us has the opportunity to do so,” Ms. Thurber said. “I don't think [minority-business owners] are looking for special consideration. I think they're looking for fair consideration.”

Mr. Ciecka said he didn't understand why Ms. Ashford termed him “unresponsive.” He said the initial requests he received in December and January from the Black Chamber of Commerce involved vending machine contracts.

He said the county's supply services department assembled a list and turned it over to a chamber member who had inquired about landing a vending machine contract with the county. He said he didn't respond personally, but directed employees to answer the request.

Mr. Ciecka said the county also conducted a survey last year when Bill Copeland, who retired in December, raised questions about how many contracts awarded by the county went to minority-owned businesses.

Out of 5,700 county vendors who received the letters, only 1,640 responded. Of that number, only 14 identified themselves as minority-owned businesses, Mr. Ciecka said.

Harry Barlos, president of the commissioners, said the issue probably never went beyond the survey because it got lost during the election season and then two new members were added to the board. He said if a tracking system would help, he would support it.

But he also pointed out that projects are advertised in The Blade and other publications in the area that provide information for anyone who wants to submit a bid.

Richard Mitchell, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce's board, said tracking minority participation would be a good first step. He said chamber members just want to discuss the issue of doing business with the county with the commissioners.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said she'd be more than willing to meet with the organization's leaders. She said inclusiveness is good for the community.

“It's my responsibility as a county commissioner that anyone who would like to provide services to the county has an equal opportunity,” Ms. Wozniak said. “It should be a very open system to all interested vendors.”



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