Evaluation panel brings transparency, more bids
You might not be able to fight City Hall as the old adage goes. But because of a new program instituted last year by the Portland City Council, previously marginalized minority and women owned businesses now have a say in how the city spends its money.
The ordinance, which was adopted in December of last year, was enacted in response to long-standing complaints that minorities have been left out of lucrative city contracts. It requires at least one minority on each panel that evaluates and awards contracts with any city bureau where goods and services are not based solely on the lowest bid. The Portland Development Commission, the city’s development arm, passed a similar resolution a month later.
The idea behind the program, which is one of the city’s efforts to provide more work opportunities to minorities, is that the process that evaluates city contracts will be enriched by getting people involved who have previously been relegated to the sidelines.
Another selling point for it is that it demystifies how the city awards contracts, and people who serve on it will walk away with a better of understanding of how Portland, the so-called “City that Works” works.
“You do the same thing, you get the same results,” said Tiffani Penson, coordinator of the city’s Minority Evaluator Program, of the rationale behind making the change.
They city awards many contracts for goods and services based on the evaluations of panels consisting of city employees and citizens who have some sort of knowledge of the field. The panels are used when a project is of a certain dollar value. Companies vying for the contracts are evaluated on various factors like work history, pricing, sustainability, and previous work with minority contractors.
The panels vary in size, depending on the size and scope of the project, and can range from less than five to 11 and up. The resolution establishing the Minority Evaluator Program ensures that roughly a third of the panel are minorities.
The city draws on participants from a database provided by the Alliance of Minority Chambers, which partnered with the city for the program, of over 200 individuals interested in serving on the panel. They are assigned to a evaluate bids in their area of expertise and provided training.
So far there were 68 requests for minority evaluators on various panels since the program was established the program, and 75 minority evaluators have served on panels, according to Penson.
The PDC has had three panels with minority representation. Linda Andrews, PDC operations manager, said that the PDC does less contracting than the city, which is why there are fewer contracts.
Melissa Wijetunga, who is of Sri Lankan heritage, served on a small evaluator panel for the disbursement of funds for the Portland Children’s Levy last March.
Wijetunga, who works as an officer manager for Oregon State Parks and Trust, had volunteered to be an evaluator after meeting Roy Jay, a local businessman and head of Portland’s African American Chamber of Commerce and advocate for the program, during a networking function.
Wijetunga admits that she was slightly taken aback when she received the evaluator materials, but by the end of the process she walked away with a better understanding of the process.
“It’s not as intimidating as you think it is,” said Wijetunga of the city procurement process.
She added that for projects like the Portland Children’s Levy, it’s important that they are evaluated by a diverse group of people so that they can serve the entire city. Wijetunga, who has a background working with low-income children, was able to underscore the importance that organizations that receive the money were culturally competent.
Andre Baugh, the president of the consulting firm Group AGB, Ltd., served on a panel that evaluated the bids for a law enforcement records management contract.
He described the overall evaluation process as a positive one that brings more inclusiveness to the city’s procurement process, and gives a voice to points of view that had previously been absent.
“I think it’s unique that the city’s inviting this diverse group of people to come and participate,” he said.
Baugh also added that getting previously marginalized people on evaluation panels unshrouds the procurement process, which many view with suspicion.
“It creates a broader transparency, and brings down real and perceived barriers,” he said.
This is one of the key goals of the program, to get make the city’s procurement process more understandable so that more minority-owned businesses will get involved.
“What we want to see, ultimately, is more people bidding,” said Penson.