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Mosby, Burnett And Glover Introduce City Business Inclusion Legislation

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Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby leads a Monday night council meeting.

Baltimore City Council members introduced a slew of legislation Monday, including a package of bills from Council President Nick Mosby and other council members that aim to give local companies a better chance of winning city bids.

The Democrat’s Business Inclusion and Empowerment Legislative Package consists of three bills that would require contractors to disclose how many city residents they employ and the city’s Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office to research local contractors for projects valued at $100,000 or higher.

“For far too long, the city has been held back by institutional practices based in inequities,” he said, pointing to Black Enterprise’s annual list of top Black-owned businesses: “Baltimore used to be home to a dozen of them. Today, you will find one or two.”

“It is really problematic to see that shift and know what it means for the racial wealth gap in our city,” Mosby said. “This happened because of the structures we have in place, and the Council must be very intentional in finding legislative solutions to reverse these inequities.”

One bill, sponsored by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett of West Baltimore, aims to bring more contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses by mandating that the Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office conduct market research for projects and identify qualified businesses. The office would have to notify those businesses, as well as the city spending board, if they are eligible.

Burnett recounted a recent incident in which the office identified an overlooked local vendor: at the beginning of a pandemic, a Black woman-owned company that supplies PPE was contacted by the city for the first time in the business’s ten years of operation.

“When we are all scrambling for that resource, that was the first time she was ever contacted by that office,” Burnett said. “By studying what companies are available to compete for city projects, our agencies will be able to spot gaps in the market and help us identify places we can use legislation to build capacity among our local businesses.”

This bill also will help the city move away from sole-source contracts that continue to perpetuate inequities in large-dollar projects, he said. “We’ve got to give an equal shot to businesses based in Baltimore.”

Another bill from Councilman Antonio Glover of East Baltimore would require contractors to disclose where they are based and how many of their workers are city residents. They also would be required to disclose whether any previous contracts they had with the city were completed on time and at budget.

“Our city contracts mean the difference between who gets hired to do the work on projects large and small from building bridges to clearing roads after a snowstorm,” Glover said.

A final bill from Mosby would create a standardized timeline for the process contractors use to submit or withdraw bids for city projects. It would allow contractors to make small edits to bids after they are submitted, which would allow them to correct inadvertent mistakes that would otherwise automatically disqualify them. Many of those mistakes are tiny and occur from a lack of institutional knowledge, Mosby said.

The council agenda also included a bill introduced by Councilman Mark Conway that calls for Baltimore to divest from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies in the world at a rate of 20% per year.

The freshman Democrat, who represents Northeast Baltimore, said his bill would bring Baltimore in line with Washington, D.C., New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles, where legislators have already divested retirement funds away from fossil fuel companies.

Baltimore is already feeling the effects of climate change, Conway said, pointing to severe storms, flooding that threatens neighborhoods and heat islands that contribute to health issues and burden the city’s power infrastructure.

“And we know climate change will get worse and the consequences more severe — especially for poorer and minority communities — if the world’s cities, states, and countries together do not take drastic action in the coming years,” he said.

Should Baltimore divest from fossil fuels, it wouldn’t be the first time city lawmakers used retirement funds as a form of protest. They divested from companies doing business in South Africa to protest apartheid in the 1980s. In 2007, state legislators passed a law to divest from companies doing business in Sudan to protest the genocide in Darfur.

Councilwoman Danielle McCray used the meeting to call for a hearing on what she deemed an overlooked public health crisis: violence against women.

Since 2007, there have been 394 women and girls killed in Baltimore City, an average of 26 a year, McCray said. Last year, the city saw the highest number of female deaths in recorded history: 49 women and girls were killed.

“Those numbers are just a snapshot, as more women were victims of aggravated and common assaults, sexual violence and other serious crimes,” McCray said. “This is a public health crisis.”

City lawmakers passed two bills at the meeting: one from Burnett that would require city-owned buildings to post a notice regarding the human-trafficking prevention hotline and another, introduced on behalf of Comptroller Bill Henry, to formalize the city’s retirement board structure.