In Her Own Words: Tiffani Penson, Minority Evaluator Program
My primary charge is to develop and implement a Minority Evaluator Program (MEP) that works both internally and externally for our customers. The goal of MEP is to meet the intent of Resolution 36757 passed by Portland City Council in December 2009 and later by the Portland Development Commission which requiring all city bureaus to include a person of color from the Alliance of Minority Chambers to be present on all panels that evaluate and award city contracts that are not based on the lowest bid.
The City of Portland Procurement Services partnered with the Alliance of Minority Chambers to assist us in the outreach to communities of colors, chambers, organizations and minority- owned businesses to build a diverse professional database with various expertise and knowledge. Since the official launch of the program in May 2010, we have over 250 MEP volunteers in the database and have filled 93 evaluation panel requests from the city bureaus.
Chief Procurement Officer Christine Moody and I have provided two internal staff trainings and two external evaluator trainings on the Minority Evaluator Program’s goals, process and expectations. These trainings are also a good time to answer any questions and hear any feedback from the staff and community evaluators. Starting in 2011 we plan to hold more internal staff trainings and external evaluator training for every 50 new evaluators entered in the Alliance of Minority Chambers database.
This program has many reasons to join, but a few of the best takeaways in my opinion are: inviting the community members to be at the table of the city contract evaluation and award process in an effort to provide them with a very transparent view of the process and decision making and building valuable relationships with people in community. A program like this will help clear up the perception that the City contracting process is not transparent enough for the taxpayers, and in addition, provide community members with information about the Request for Proposal bidding information. My hope is that through the program, we can do more outreach, and bring people in. People from the community can offer us such great input and expertise and the City needs to take advantage of all the members of our community has to offer.
We have realized that if we keep doing the same practices, we will get the same results. So by doing something different and implementing such an inclusive program we are sure to get different results. In addition, this is also a great way to make people/small businesses aware of the contracting opportunities available at the city with the hope of attracting more diversity of the businesses bidding on city projects.
There are so many different types of projects and contracting opportunities: engineering, architecture, diversity training, information technology, communications systems, sustainable plans to develop affordable housing and the list goes on. Because there are so many different categories, we have identified some standard industry categories where we need participants. Although we have these industry categories, one does not have to fall into those categories to participate. You can label yourself as a community member also d we realize that some people have so much expertise outside of their primary job or industry.
MEP forces the city to think outside the box, and bring community members together with technical people to make decisions about how the city spends money. People really value all efforts that government makes to reach out and invite them in and we value the people in our community.
The reality is that community involvement and feedback make for better decisions and organizations. The support of out city leadership and staff also contributes to the success of MEP. The Portland Housing Bureau (PHB), now under the direction of Margaret Van Vliet is a good example of internal support. PHB does a different kind of contracting, which involves grants awarded to community organizations. Although their solicitation process is a little different and some of their projects don’t fall under the same rules as the rest of the bureaus, they have committed using MEP for all of their solicitations whether they are grants or contracts.
Professionals and community members of color should participate in the MEP, because it’s so important to get involved in the decision-making process of your local government. Speaking for my community – the African American community – history has shown that we have felt left out of processes surrounding big decisions. It’s really important for people of color to know that the city’s intent is not to leave out communities of color, but is just as important for our communities to participate and be present.
For people of color who own a business, being in the MEP can help them become aware of contracting opportunities. They can see first-hand how proposals are written – what wins. They have the opportunity to learn and sharpen their own tools and better prepare their business to compete and possibly when government contracts.
MEP has gotten great press which adds to our efforts of attracting more evaluators. It also helps that current MEP evaluators are speaking with other people in the community encouraging them to join. They’ve been wonderful about carrying the message to their networks and hope they continue to do so
We invite everyone to participate, and not all our panelists live or work in the City of Portland. Our goal is to continue to improve our processes. And with your valuable input and constructive criticism we will have a program that everyone feels good about. I appreciate it when people tell me how the city can do better – then I don’t have to guess.
The MEP process may vary, but basically the time commitment varies, because each evaluation panel is different. An initial meeting is typically called by the project manager, to give panelists an overview of the process, request for proposals and determine if there are any conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest is determined by people who have a financial interest in the project or have family relationships with principal proposers bidding on the project, in this case, the evaluator may not serve on this particular panel. Then proposal packets are mailed to members, who are then given ample time to review and score each proposal and return to discuss their decision if need be. In addition to the success of MEP, one of our challenges is identifying that constant flow of new people to participate in the program. We’re still pretty new, and the word is still getting out, but we know that because Portland is not the most diverse city we will possibly come up against the problem of identify new members. Our goal is to keep the outreach fresh, and build upon our successes each year. This is the first program of its kind in the nation, requiring people of color to be involved in how government contracts evaluated and awarded, so it’s really important that we build a solid, successful program that other cities can follow.
For me, the most rewarding part of my involvement in the program is bringing people of color to the table and hearing their feedback about the process. It’s good having diversity at the decision-making table, and educating community members on how our process works. The evaluators often thank us for the opportunity, but really, the City of Portland thanks them and is so appreciative of their involvement. We are truly benefiting from having the expertise and perspective of our community members. Ultimately, the hope is that through this process it will encourage more minority owned businesses to bid on government contracts.
Colors of Influence || Winter 2011