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Council Questions MDC on Minority Hiring

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

March 23, 2009

Representatives from the Metropolitan District Commission's water and sewer agency came before the city council to present the MDC's strategic plan tonight, but members of the city council were more interested in talking about the agency's plan for hiring minority firms and workers.

It's an issue that the Courant has written about recently, and it's a situation that pits the regional water and sewer agency and members of the city's African American Alliance against each other politically. The commission is in the early stages of its massive, $2 billion Clean Water Project.

Democratic Majority Leader rJo Winch began the questioning, pointedly asking MDC commissioner Alvin Taylor whether a Hispanic contractor running one phase of the Clean Water Project was from Hartford.

No, Taylor responded.

"The fact of the matter is there are very few minority firms that can do this kind of work," Taylor told her.

"If there are no individuals in the city of Hartford, was this not an opportunity for training ... Or did they seek to find local residents who may have had those skills?" Winch asked, driving home her point.

Working Families Party member Larry Deutsch picked up the questioning, asking MDC Chairman William DiBella for more specific numbers on minority set-asides on the project. DiBella shot back that few people in the state are trained for the kind of work the commission is undertaking because this kind of work has never been done in the state.

Council President Calixto Torres tried a gentler approach with DiBella than had Deutsch or Winch.

"Anything you could do to help persuade, leverage the training of the unemployed, the underemployed, the folks that need to be retrained - it is really much welcomed," Torres said.

Then it was Republican Veronica Airey-Wilson's turn. She chided DiBella, telling him "we would expect that you're going to look out for the interests of the people in this city."

DiBella again reminded the council that the clean water project is a complicated one, for which few companies -- minority or otherwise -- have the appropriate training. He also reminded the council that the MDC is not, at its core, a training agency.

Councilman Luis Cotto wasn't having it.

"I need you to hear the frustration that's out in the community," Cotto, also of the Working Families Party, told DiBella. "I don't see an equitable exchange here."

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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