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Essex Freeholder Pres. Britnee Timberlake proposed pilot program to help women & minority business owners to compete for contracts

Essex County President Timberlake
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During the Wednesday, February 11, 2015, meeting of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake of East Orange proposed a set-aside pilot program to address persistent race and gender disparity in the awarding of County contracts. Her “incremental pay and pay-on-time” pilot program is designed to provide successful contract bidders with “progress” payments throughout the duration of a project to augment their cash-flow, thereby enabling them to meet their payroll, equipment, material and insurance obligations through to the project’s completion.

She explained that the pilot program would be a much-needed departure from the current payment protocol that withholds all County payments to contractors until 30 days after a project’s completion, a practice that virtually excludes small, women and minority-owned businesses from the pool of potential contractors because they have not yet accumulated financial reserves large enough to sustain them for extended periods of time… and would help break the vicious cycle of businesses being unable to win large contracts because they don’t have sufficient reserves, yet being unable to win the very same large contracts they need to build those reserves.

In formulating her proposal, Timberlake, who also chairs the Freeholder Board’s Affirmative Action Committee, culled through the 2005 303-page “Analysis of Essex County Procurement and Contracting Final Report” (commonly known as “The Disparity Study”) to analyze its findings and identify those areas where progress has been more challenging than originally anticipated. The Report, which was commissioned by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., and the Board of Chosen Freeholders, noted five possible explanations “for the disparity in securing the services of qualified minority and women-owned firms that provide construction-related, professional and procurement goods and services”:

Discrimination in the award of contracts through the bid process;

Differential access to information about bid opportunities;

Differential access to loans and/or bonding;

Discriminatory barriers to self-employment; and

Size and capacity of firms

“As pointed out in the Disparity Study, women and minority-owned businesses often lack cash flow to be competitive enough to win bids”, said Timberlake. “This is a disparity gap that can be closed, and the Affirmative Action Committee is formally asking the Administration to implement this initiative to help minority and women-owned businesses build track records of capability and success by mid-year.”

Timberlake applauded the commitment of County Executive DiVincenzo and Deborah Collins, Esq., Executive Director of the County’s Office of Small Business Development & Affirmative Action, to tackle the many impediments to progress, and expressed her hope that the implementation of the pilot program will help the Administration and Freeholder Board reach their mutual goals quicker.

Timberlake’s Affirmative Action Committee colleagues also expressed their support for the pilot program: “I fully support Freeholder President Timberlake’s initiative as a means to speed-up the progress of equitable distribution of County contracts, and suggest we reach out to large national general contractors who might mentor our target population of business owners”, said District 2 Freeholder Wayne Richardson of Newark; Freeholder Lebby Jones of Irvington said, “If this proposal will jump-start the County’s efforts to close the disparity gap, I’m all for it”, and also stated that this should be one of many more initiatives, both legislatively and otherwise, to address the persistent problems; and Freeholder At-Large Rufus Johnson of Newark commended Timberlake “for a job well done in sifting through all the materials, raising questions and coming up with possible solutions.” District 5 Freeholder Cynthia Toro expressed her support as well, saying, “I am in full support of this initiative and pilot because I believe it will also help us in our efforts to create employment opportunities for Essex County’s large number of unemployed.”

Freeholder President Timberlake, the youngest and only African-American woman to currently serve as the leader of a freeholder board in the State of New Jersey, was elected to her first term on the Board in November 2014 to represent District 3, which is comprised of East Orange, Orange, South Orange and part of Newark’s West Ward.

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