- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said yesterday the state is holding public hearings and reviewing its procedures to better fulfill minority contracts that he said were neglected by the Glendening administration.

Mr. Steele, who is chairman of the Governor’s Commission for Minority Business Reform, told The Washington Times that the Glendening administration over-reported the amount of contracts the state awarded to minority-owned businesses.

As a result, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, is now holding hearings to learn about the challenges minority business owners face in competing for state contracts.

“No one was at the helm watching and tracking dollars that we were putting out,” Mr. Steele told The Times. “We hope [the hearings] will lead to long-overdue reform.”

By law, the state must award 25 percent of its contracts to minority-owned businesses. In 2001, the Office of Minority Affairs, under the Glendening administration, reported that it awarded 19 percent of its contracting dollars to minority businesses. Minority Affairs is the office established to advocate for minority businesses.

Mr. Steele said an audit of the 2001 report found that the state had over-reported the amount of minority business contracts awarded by state agencies by as much as 40 percent.

“It really shows a great deal of disparity that still remains in the system,” Mr. Steele said.

Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, was governor of Maryland for eight years. He left office in January.

As a result of the audit, conducted earlier this year, the Ehrlich administration is in the process of retooling Minority Affairs’ procedures and formed the commission to hold public hearings. Mr. Ehrlich appointed Mr. Steele to head the commission.

Sharon R. Pinder, the commission’s executive director and newly appointed director of Minority Affairs, said the state has a long way to go in changing the office’s procedures.

“The state agencies as a result of the audit have corrected the problem,” she said. “Problems still exist, however, and that is why the reform effort is in place.”

A spokesman for Mrs. Pinder said one of the things the commission is looking at is how the state certifies minority businesses.

Mrs. Pinder’s predecessor, Tina M. Jolivet, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Mr. Glendening has not returned repeated telephone calls or answered electronic correspondence from The Times about various audits of his administration.

“No one is in trouble,” Mr. Steele said. “We just want to clear this up and be fair, open, honest and treat our minority businesses like we treat other businesses in the state.”

The commission is scheduled to hold its next public hearing at Morgan State University’s Morgan Fine Arts Center in Baltimore from 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Other hearings will be held on Nov. 6 at Montgomery College’s Fine Arts Center in Rockville and on Nov. 17 at Prince George’s Community College’s Rennie Forum in Largo. Both hearings are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Mr. Steele said the commission will deliver its findings to Mr. Ehrlich by the end of the year.

“And, I will work with the governor to implement the findings of the commission,” Mr. Steele said.

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