September 30, 2023
Local News

Black chamber group challenges JJC contracting; college defends its numbers

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A local leader in the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce told the Joliet Junior College board that its contracting practices were “an embarrassment,” a characterization disputed by administrators.

Cornel Darden Jr., who has been leading a charge to increase minority contracting at the city of Joliet and Will County, took the cause to the JJC board on Monday.

Darden said his organization has been working for a year with JJC administration to increase the numbers of minority contractors doing business with the college but to no avail.

“Why I’m here today is to shed a light on what’s being done in the procurement department,” Darden said. “It’s an embarrassment. I think the board should be embarrassed.”

He contended that JJC is making no progress toward a goal of 20 percent participation by minority contractors through the state Business Enterprise Program.

“The track record for JJC’s minority participation is pretty abysmal. I believe it’s zero,” Darden said.

JJC officials after the meeting, however, said the college in 2017 awarded contracts worth $383,113 on eight projects to contractors certified with the Business Enterprise Program, which fosters government contracting with businesses owned by minorities, women and people with disabilities.

Janice Reedus, director of business and auxiliary services for JJC, said the 20 percent goal was first established for 2017.

JJC in the past year also notified 6,685 vendors certified with the Business Enterprise Program of 46 bids and requests for proposals on contracts of $25,000 or more, Reedus said.

College officials were prepared for Darden’s appearance.

JJC President Judy Mitchell was not at the meeting but had a written statement read by another college official saying the administration works “to ensure JJC’s procurement process is inclusive” for minorities, females veterans, people with disabilities and others.

“This approach embraces all businesses, not individual groups and organizations,” Mitchell said.

Darden, who also is board chairman of the African American Business Association in Joliet, was joined by two local, black businesspeople: Willie Sellers, who owns a trucking business, and Matt Wylie, a photographer.

Wylie encouraged the board to consider JJC students and utilize procurement practices to “empower those same students who want to be entrepreneurs and provide them the opportunity to succeed.”

JJC board Chairman Robert Wunderlich only said that the board would look into the issue.

But board member Alicia Morales said she was “embarrassed that we don’t look look at that more and be sure we are being inclusive in our business contracts.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News