Philly City Council sets committee on public and private DEI policies

Philadelphia City Council voted to create a special committee on city and private sector diversity, equity and inclusion policies on Thursday.

The measure will give the body an opportunity to examine current practices in city contracting and what can be done to further support minority, women and disabled-owned businesses looking to work for the government.

The resolution was introduced earlier this month by At-Large Councilmember Isaiah Thomas on behalf of Council President Kenyatta Johnson. The postponement of last week’s session due to the death of longtime Council Chief Clerk Michael Decker moved the vote to Thursday.

Leaders in the Black business community spoke on behalf of the legislation during the public comment session. Regina Hairston, president and CEO of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, noted that members have struggled with obtaining city contracts.

“Too often we heard from members about the difficulty of navigating the procurement processes, whether it’s deciding to become a minority-owned certified enterprise, or connecting to non-minority firms in hopes of partnering as a subcontractor on contracts that have been long held by minority firms,” Hairston said. “While we know this City Council has taken steps towards dismantling these barriers, they still persist.” She also pointed to low revenues for women-owned businesses like early childhood education providers.

Council President Johnson will select the members for this committee but did not give a timetable for activity. While the work will focus on city policies, they are able to draw on the best practices in other governments and the private sector. One day after Mayor Cherelle Parker proposed a new office to help minority businesses access venture capital, the Council president made that part of his pursuits as well.

“We want to look at the opportunity of making sure that we have capital for small Black and brown businesses so that they can also participate in all the many development projects that are taking place in the city of Philadelphia,” he said following the session. “We want to make sure that when it comes to providing policy, to make sure that the opportunities that we provide from the city are inclusive. I think it’s going to take a comprehensive strategy when we look at funding, when we look at making sure we have the intention to make sure when we see major development projects that are taking place in the city of Philadelphia, are we increasing those number of requirements to make sure Black and brown and women-owned businesses have a seat at the table?”

At-large Councilmember Rue Landau’s resolution on re-examining the regulations on streeteries and sidewalk cafes was introduced and passed in the session. New hearings will look to fix the process that keeps owners from acquiring the licensing to offer outdoor seating on their properties, one of the more popular ideas to come out of the pandemic.

“As a city known for its culinary diversity and innovation, Philadelphia’s outdoor dining scene has become an important part of our city,” said Councilmember Landau in a statement following the session. “However, the transition from emergency COVID conditions to permanent outdoor dining regulations has posed significant challenges for many of our restaurants. Through this resolution, we want to revisit and consider improvements to our current policies, ensuring fair access to streeteries and sidewalk cafes for all restaurateurs. By holding hearings and collecting feedback from the community, we will work towards a more inclusive and thriving dining experience that helps both our small businesses and residents alike.”

Elizabeth McCollum will serve as acting council chief clerk while council finds a permanent replacement for the late Michael Decker. The rostrum where Decker read notices and oversaw proceedings since 2009 was adorned with black bunting and a floral arrangement was placed at the bottom of the edifice. His funeral services will be Friday at Holy Innocents Church on East Hunting Park Avenue.

In addition to mourning the loss of Decker, members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. came out in support of At-Large Council Member Nina Ahmad’s resolution honoring Dr. Edith Peterson Mitchell. The trailblazing oncologist made history in the Air Force, rising to the rank of Brigadier General for her work with medical transports. She also taught at Jefferson University, winning awards for her work and research in cancer treatment. Dr. Mitchell died in January at the age of 76.