Activists looking for answers about equitable city contracting

NOW: Activists looking for answers about equitable city contracting

SOUTH BEND, Ind.— Activists, led by Black Lives Matter (BLM) South Bend, held a virtual press conference Thursday, airing grievances against the city.

Since the pandemic, American Rescue Plan dollars were allocated to serve as a hand up to minority contractors and business owners, but some are saying they haven’t seen those dollars in action, so they want more transparency about where the money is going.

Additionally, the alleged termination of city employee Antonius Northern, who oversaw the “Business Suite” umbrella of programs, has activists worried this is bad news for black contractors.

“Discrimination against minorities in terms of contracting and supplies is not a new thing in South Bend, it’s been going on long before I’ve been here,” said Joseph Shabazz, former city employee and chairman of labor for the local NAACP.

“We are as African American contractors have been locked out of city procurement for over a decade now,” said contractor and organizer Katheryn Redding.

BLM South Bend claimed the Business Suite programs were suspended without any explanation. However, a spokesperson for the City of South Bend said the programs were transitioned to other city staff members.

But BLM also wants to know the status of a $1 million allocation of American Rescue Plan dollars to an “Opportunity Fund” in 2022.

 "What is the status of the program? What happened with Antonius? And will this opportunity fund really reach the coffers of these disadvantaged businesses?” said BLM South Bend founder, Jorden Giger.

ABC57 contacted the mayor’s office for an interview to ask about all these allegations, and got back a statement that reads in part:

“Following concerns raised in a recent public meeting, the City team is reviewing programs that assist local small businesses to ensure they are effective and continue in accordance with state procurement laws and the Constitution of the United States.”

“Other places like Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, you can’t-- you basically cannot do a project unless it has minority involvement,” Shabazz said. “You got to wonder why here in South Bend, that can go on with no problem at all.”

South Bend does have an Inclusive Procurement and Contracting Board, with the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for minority and women-owned businesses. 

Activists seem to think those goals aren’t being met, or perhaps not communicated clearly to the communities affected.

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