City Council Recap: Minority Businesses Call for City Support

Last night there were no regular agenda items to be discussed by Richmond City Council, but dozens of minority business owners dominated the meeting, pushing the city to adopt legislation to support them.

Last night there were no regular agenda items to be discussed by Richmond City Council, but dozens of minority business owners dominated the meeting, pushing the city to adopt legislation to support them.

Those contractors and trades people are part of the Matrix Network, a group which organizes minorities who’s skills run the gamut. It is a joint venture of Section 3, the Housing and Urban Development Act, and minority businesses. The group has been pushing for months to increase the capacity for minority businesses to bid on city contracts.

After the award for Richmond Administrative Professionals was given, the public comment period began and the Matrix Network pleaded their case.

King Salim Khalfani, executive director of Richmond’s NAACP, was the first to speak. He said minority businesses are seeking to increase their “participation in economic and community development strategies.”

“The Matrix Network has a full roster of contractors, developers, technicians, tradesmen and tradeswomen and trades specialists in various fields that are carefully packaged to meet any workforce qualifications and requirements,” he said.

After Kalfani delivered his two minute speech — each scheduled public comment is allowed three minutes — he passed the mic to Earl Bradley. City Council President Graziano pointed out there wasn’t much time left. Bradley retorted there were two other patrons after him “that are right in line with this” which inspired laughter from the Council.

David Crenshaw of the Matrix network was one of those patrons. He said he was there to request the City Council raise the bonding capacity from $100,000 to $500,000 before a bond would be required of a small contractor, as the state of Virginia had done in the General Assembly this year.

“If the city of Richmond really wants to see small contractors grow in the city of Richmond, that would change the game,” he said.

As their time ran out Crenshaw assured City Council they would be back to talk about this.

“We are not here to protest, we are here to see how we can partner with the city to make contractors in our fair city, better contractors,” he said.

Council Vice-President Ellen F. Robertson of the 6th District said she was proposing a bill that night to align Richmond with Virginia law. Councilman E. Martin Jewell pledged his support and asked to co-patron the bill.

“We asked them to organize, they’ve done that. We’ve asked them to push, they’ve done that. Our job is to pull while they push,” said Councilman Jewell.

Councilwoman Cynthia I. Newbille and Councilman Chris Hilbert said they wanted to co-patron the bill as well.

“I think this is probably one of the most important issues in our city to address poverty and to do the right thing by minority contractors as far as the city business goes,” said Councilman Hilbert.

The next public comment was a dozen members of the Matrix Network stepping to the mic and introducing themselves and their business. Graziano allowed them to go over the three minute time limit but limited them to simple introductions.

Peter Luis Sadalgo, a plumbing trade specialist in the Matrix Network, was reprimanded by Graziano when he began to talk about what he’d like to see the city do.

“One thing I don’t appreciate is when you guys are listening to us, I’d appreciate if some of you don’t text and don’t e-mail…” he responded.

The next speaker went like the first two, several people rose to the podium and the audience erupted in giggles. The mic was passed several times, echoing support for affirmative action programs.

Councilman Jewell thanked the Matrix members for pushing the city. He said the capability of the Matrix group is not in question and now the city needs to take action to employ them.

“Minority businesses hire minority people,” he said. “We got a poverty crisis in this city and if we’re going to fix that we need to put people in place who can hire our people.”

His comment was met by a roar of applause from the audience. Jewell said the Council needed to put their shoulder to the wheel and solve the problem in the coming weeks..

Finally, Council President Graziano encouraged the audience to attend a rally for the VCU Rams and U of R Spiders the following day at 4pm at the James Center.

“We want as many citizens as possible to show up to cheer these teams on that put us on the map,” Council President Graziano said.

And she also asked for their input on the budget which will be hammered out over the next few weeks and then will be open to a public hearing on May 5th.

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Caroline Jackson

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