Springfield City Councilor Seeks Audit Of 5 Years Of Public Contracts

Feb 23, 2021

City Councilor Justin Hurst of Springfield, Massachusetts, is calling for an audit of all city contracts going back five years, looking in part at the city's support of minority-owned businesses.

Hurst said the city's procurement goals should reflect its diverse population. 

"Considering the fact that we want to see Springfield thrive, we want to see businesses flourish, why would you not track how many contracts are going to local businesses, how many contracts are going to women, veterans, minorities?" Hurst said.

Following a federal civil rights complaint, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh earlier this month announced an executive order that sets goals for diversity in contracting and procurement for the city. It allocates 25% of city funding to go toward businesses owned by people of color and women.

Hurst said he wants to know how the city of Springfield compares in its support for minority-owned businesses as well as those located within the city. According to U.S. Census data, over half of Springfield's population is Black or Latino.

"What makes us assume that more than 1% of our contracts are going to businesses of color when we need them most right now?" Hurst said. "It seems to me like we should already know. It seems to me like the mayor should have already been able to reel off the numbers, certainly by a quick phone call to the director of procurement. Clearly, that is not the case."

In his formal request, Hurst wrote (PDF) that according to a study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, women-, Black- and Latino-owned businesses have been hit harder by the pandemic than other businesses, and are less likely to recover. From the request:

I would argue that the City of Springfield is even more susceptible to losing a discrimination lawsuit than the City of Boston and the last thing the City needs is for the Department of Justice to open another investigation. It is difficult for the city to create a more equitable procurement< system with the objective of increasing procurement contracts to Black, Latino and Women owned businesses, if we have no idea what percentage of contracts are currently being allocated to these sub-groups.

Mayor Domenic Sarno, in an emailed statement, said the city's contracts meet legal requirements. He also said he's committed to creating more opportunities for Black- and Latino-owned businesses as well as those owned by women and veterans. Sarno's full statement:

I beg to differ. I am proud to say my administration is the most diverse and reflective of our city’s population in its history. Same goes for our city contracts, which must meet all legal procurement guidelines and requirements. While we always strive for continued betterment, I and my administration are committed to creating more and more opportunities for our women, Veterans, Black and Latino own [sic] businesses.

Hurst chairs Springfield's audit committee, which meets this week.