With first executive orders of his tenure, Brown expands pledge for diversity in Buffalo's business

Jan 12, 2017

For the first time in his tenure as Mayor of the City of Buffalo, Byron Brown issued executive orders. Brown used the orders to highlight phase two of his Opportunity Agenda, which aims to promote diversity in Buffalo’s government and hiring practices.

At a presentation inside the Beverley Gray Beverly A. Gray Business Incubator, Brown unveiled six executive orders focused on the growth and development of minority and women-owned businesses, opportunities for former convicts, and expanded diversity through various policies.

Emulating the Rooney Rule

Brown began discussion of the orders pointing to the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” – a policy that requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations jobs.

“City departments will continue to make all reasonable efforts to cultivate diverse candidate pools that include qualified minorities, women and immigrants for all open city positions, whether they be civil service, exempt, or seasonal,” said Brown.

According to Brown, the policy has been used informally over the last decade, resulting in the highest number of black, Latino, immigrant and female employees in the city’s history.

Holding companies and contractors to Buffalo’s standards

For city departments seeking professional services, a minimum of 15 percent of the score for bids submitted will be based on the vendor’s minority and female workforce representation, as well as its diversity policies.

“This is important because the city uses outside legal counsel, accounting firms, architectural firms, and engineering firms,” explained Brown. “We want to continue to send a strong and clear message to those companies that we want to see in their workforce the presence of minorities and women.”

The new rule will provide points on requests for proposal and bids to companies that demonstrate the presence of an inclusive work force.

A first-source hiring policy for the city’s public works contracts will require contractors and their sub-contractors to meet or exceed a 25 percent resident hiring goal. The city will also be expected to strive for business utilization goals of 25 percent minority business enterprise (MBE) and five percent women business enterprise (MBE), as well as workforce participation goals at the same rates for all major economic development and public works projects.

Removing the stigma of incarceration

Because a stigma tends to come with having served jail time, Brown’s orders also aim to ease the transition into productive life for those who have been incarcerated. The city will no longer use the term “ex-offender” on any official documentation – instead replacing it with “returning citizen.”

“We know it is important to reduce recidivism, to engage and reintegrate these members of our community into the fabric of society to increase their employment opportunities and their successful transition back into the community,” said Brown.

Complementing the change of terms, the Buffalo Employment and Training Center’s Re-Entry program will be renamed Re-Integration Services for Employment (R.I.S.E.).

Keeping an eye on businesses while encouraging them to do more

A contract compliance committee was established to develop and monitor the progress of policy changes. With the power to review city contracts and policies, as well as make suggestions to the Mayor, the committee will try to increase MBE and WBE participation, while making sure that any substitutions of sub-contractor maintain required MBE and WBE standards.

The committee will also monitor the efforts of contractors and majority businesses to mentor minority and women-owned businesses.

“Going forward, on RFPs, there will be points that will be provided for those prime contractors and majority businesses that have demonstrated that they have mentor minority and women-owned businesses,” Brown said.

Progress in Phase One

Looking back on the first phase of his Opportunity Agenda, Brown said over 5,900 individuals, along with 400 businesses and organizations signed the “Opportunity Pledge – representing a total of more than 191,000 people.

The Mayor praised the city staff members who worked on the Agenda and the executive orders. Among them was the city’s Chief Diversity Officer Crystal Rodriguez, who said Phase Two will be “the muscle” behind the opportunity agenda.

“It’s one thing to say you support it,” said Rodriguez, “But it’s another thing to actually put the work behind it, and that’s what we’ve done with these executive orders. And for those people and those businesses and those organizations that have signed the pledge, we’re going to be looking for them to support us and kind of put their weight behind diversity, equity and inclusion, too.”

As to why the power of executive orders was utilized, Brown said he wanted to signal his seriousness about the continuing progress in the city.

Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen said what is happening in Buffalo goes beyond “inclusion.”

“Inclusion almost says, we’re inviting you into our already formed group,” said Pridgen. “But expansion says we’re opening up greater opportunities for everyone.”

Over the next few months, the Council will take up the same issues addressed in Brown’s executive orders with the goal of making them into more permanent city law.

“I think this is too important to allow any one person to come into government after all of this work and undo what years of working to get to this goal have produced,” Pridgen said.

Brown said he expects to gain full support from the Common Council in adopting the executive orders into law.