When Heinz Field, PNC Park and the David L. Lawrence Center were being built a decade ago, Cameil Williams, the county’s MWDBE director, worked to help Blacks and women get contracts on the projects and to uncover the “pass-through” contracts that had minority participation only on paper.
|CONTRACT CON?— Business owner Cameil Williams was listed as a WBE subcontractor by Mt. Lebanon Office Equipment’s furniture bid on the Consol Energy Center despite having no agreement with Mt. Lebanon.
Now, as a small business owner, she’s trying to get contracts on current development projects. So the irony was not lost on her when she got a call congratulating her for a near $20,000 subcontract she’d won for the Consol Energy Center. The only problem was—Williams had no such subcontract.
“It was just after I’d read that Courier story about minority employment on the arena being low while the business participation was good when Eustace Uku (the Pittsburgh Penguins’ contract compliance officer) called to say Mt. Lebanon Office Equipment had won the $869,000 contract and my company, Williams Management Solutions, was down for $19,991,” she said. “But I never signed that deal.”
Williams said she did have discussions about serving as a subcontractor with Mt. Lebanon Office Equipment owner James Droney Jr., but could not agree to terms. So she was not pleased to see a copy of the contract with her name on it claiming $19,991 worth of WBE participation on an $869,000 contract.
“Mr. Droney has been in business for 50 years, and has been nothing but nice to Cameil. He’s given me business before, bought lunch, all that,” she said. “But if he thinks that allows him to say I’m forfeiting my life’s work, he’s sadly mistaken. I’m not giving him or anyone else the right to list me fraudulently.”
Calls to Droney for clarification were not returned. Williams said the contract, which also had no MBE participation, should not have been approved.
Clarence Curry, the Sports and Exhibition Authority senior diversity coordinator, said the problem has been fixed.
“We fixed that. We took a bigger portion out of that and gave it to another WBE,” he said. “So the WBE number is higher now.”
Curry said once the SEA determined Williams was not the subcontractor, they altered the contract.
“We have modified the arrangements to reduce the award to Mt. Lebanon and award a separate contract to Bulldog Office Products, a locally owned WBE,” he said. The contract is more than double the amount Williams was cited to get.
Curry said of the five bidders that received a second interview, Mt. Lebanon’s bid was the lowest. Asked if including Williams’ company on the paperwork had any impact on the contract’s approval, he admitted it did.
“We have approved contracts with no MWDBE participation in the past, knowing we can make it up elsewhere,” he said. “But we probably would not have approved this one with no participation because we knew there was an opportunity for installment.”
Normally, Curry said, a letter from the prime contractor to the subcontractor, outlining its portion of the work accompanies bid packages. There was no letter of intent in this case.
“We put this through without the letter because we wanted the contract in place—we’re under tremendous time constraints,” he said. “So, we sent it to the city Equal Opportunity Review Commission and promised the letter would follow. They approved it, but we never got the letter.”
Dawn Jakomas, administrator for the commission, said the contract was approved pending the letter of intent.
“That can happen on occasion when it’s someone we deal with all the time, or it’s a big contract, or there’s a time factor. But we usually get the letter within a day or two,” she said. “But one like this doesn’t happen often. I’m just learning about it, and (commission manager) Phil Petite is out sick. It will be brought up again at the next meeting.”
Pittsburgh Regional Minority Purchasing Council President and CEO Alexander “Nick” Nichols said he was amazed to hear about Williams’ situation.
“I’m stunned (Mt. Lebanon) would list her, that’s bold,” he said. “And shame on the SEA for letting it go.”
Williams said she spoke up to protect her reputation and that of her company.
“I wasn’t getting the work anyway, but that’s my name there,” she said. “Besides, it makes me wonder how many of the other MWDBE contracts are only on paper.”
(Send comments to email@example.com.)