The year is now 1996 and for the first time in 62 years, Republicans Larry Dunn and Bob Cramner are in the majority as Allegheny County commissioners. In January 1997 I was appointed Allegheny County director of MBE/WDE/DBE. The first three weeks I did research on the history of the office, and to my great surprise, it bordered on criminality because the department had never been a functioning office. The general public, based on the individuals who had lead the office before, had been led to believe the MBE/WBE/DBE department was a conduit to ensure that Blacks and women were truly sharing in the unbelievable multimillions of dollars in contracts that were being awarded, and that did not include the professional goods and services contracts.
It was mind boggling to realize that the program had been in existence for 14 years and it had no substance. I vividly recall asking my staff the question, “Tell me why you get paid, and explain what do you do?” The late Art Glover eventually answered for the staff and said, “Hop there are some of us who want to do our jobs, but everything is dictated by the commissioner and he decides who is going to receive the contracts.” Art, who would become my top aide, and I began to visit the other 14 departments throughout Allegheny County with two reasons in mind. One was for me to introduce myself, and the other was to explain that I had been hired to put new life into the affirmative action program in Allegheny County. To my dismay I was informed that the majority of department heads had no knowledge that Allegheny County had an affirmative action program and one department head laughed and stated nothing will change and called the commissioner’s office inquiring who is Hop and what is his actual role?
This was all new to me; it was an introduction to how government fails to work. Art and I went back to the MBE/WBE/DBE office to discuss what we had encountered and to come up with a plan of action that would inject a sense of urgency into what until then had never been a genuine program. I will always remember Art asking, “Hop are the persons who hired you serious, or are they just more of the same?” My response was, “Allow me to go over to the commissioner’s office and find out.” I went over to Commissioner Larry Dunn’s office, because he was the majority commissioner and explained what I had encountered. The commissioner listened intently and said “what do you need me do?” I said, “Call all department heads together and explain to them that I am the new sheriff in town and I speak for you.” He called a meeting that same day and I’ll always remember I stood between them and he said to all directors that Hop’s voice is our voice and make no mistakes about it.
This was the beginning of the only productive years of the Allegheny County MBE/WBE/DBE/ program.
Please remember Kingsley Association.
Part 3 will appear March 27, 2013
(Louis “Hop” Kendrick is a weekly contributor to the Forum page.)