Indictment of former city of Cleveland contracting officer won’t sully newly …
Contractor Dominic Ozanne and lawyer Jose Feliciano said they remain confident their effort to get private-sector contractors to voluntarily hire minority workers can be adequately verified despite the recent accusations that the city's own system for enforcing its mandatory rules governing minority subcontracting was tainted.
LeJon Woods, 29, a former compliance officer in the city's Office of Equal Opportunity, is charged with trying to shake down three city contractors who were facing fines for not subcontracting enough work to companies owned by minorities in 2010. Woods' federal indictment resulted from an FBI investigation.
Woods worked for the city for six years before resigning Friday.
The indictment came one week after Jackson and leaders of nine business, civic, labor and trade organizations announced their agreement.
Ozanne said the private-sector developers who adhere to the new set of standards will be doing so voluntarily and would have no motivation to falsify their statistics.
He said one person's bad judgment should not spoil an aspirational, long-term project that has gathered unprecedented support from the private sector. He said the sheer peer pressure of partners in the industry will deter dishonesty.
"With the construction employers and minority groups involved, it's like a family reunion times 10," Ozanne said. "You can't get a cookie off the table without everyone seeing you. You wouldn't even want to try."
Feliciano, chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable, pointed out that a committee of representatives from each partnering agency will be assembled under the leadership of the Greater Cleveland Partnership to collect hiring demographics from participating companies to monitor diversity and inclusion.
The committee will research best practices for monitoring compliance and likely will learn from the city's lapse in supervising Woods, he said.
"It seems to me that you've put your finger on something that we need to pay attention to, so that we include a more aggressive monitoring mechanism and check it frequently in a way that is meaningful," Feliciano said. "But we worked hard on this thing. . . Overall, I don't want to see the baby thrown out with the bath water."
Maureen Harper, communications chief for Jackson, said in a statement Wednesday that after becoming aware of the accusations against Wood in 2010, the city enacted "a process of checks and balances to ensure the integrity of the program," but did not take any actions that would have interfered with the federal investigation.
Harper noted that the city has improved its system of verifying compliance since 2010. Among other changes, she said, the Office of Equal Opportunity has installed contract-compliance software that has enabled the city to collect $133,830 in penalties since April 30, 2009.
Leaders of two minority contractors groups, who were included in early discussions on the agreement, later refused to participate after penalties for noncompliance were written out of the memorandum of understanding.
The groups, which have long criticized the Office of Equal Opportunity for not doing enough to help minority workers get contracts, pointed to Woods’ indictment as proof of a dysfunctional and useless city program. They said Wednesday that the new agreement extending to the private sector promises to be just as futile.
Norm Edwards, former president of the Black Contractors Association and now leader of the American Center for Economic Equality, called for the resignation of Office of Equal Opportunity Chief Natoya Walker-Minor.
"Does the mayor want change or not?" Edwards said. "Evidently he does not if he’s keeping those people in place."