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City, county streamline minority and women firms certifications

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced a reciprocal certification program the two governments have agreed upon which will create crucial jobs in women-and monority-owned business in Chicago and Cook County, Tuesday, March 27, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Minority- and women-owned companies forced to wait as long as two years for the certification they need to get a leg up on city contracts will soon have a shorter waiting time and lower costs.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday joined forces on a “reciprocal certification” that will allow the city to recognize companies certified by the county and for the county to do the same for companies that have passed muster with the city.

City certification was made more rigorous after a series of scandals that culminated in the $100 million fraud by the mob-connected Duff family.

But, critics have long contended that the pendulum swung too far in the other direction – with an application as long as 17 pages and an average waiting time of 175 days.

Now, minority contractors will have one application to complete, one set of hurdles to jump through and one fee to pay – $250 every three years. Only construction contracts will have net worth requirements.

Emanuel said the goal is to complete the certification process within 30 to 60 days to make certain minority- and women-owned contractors that are “mainly small get their sea legs to get going and competing for public work.”

The mayor added, “It’s not set up in a way that is actually putting speed bumps or hurdles in their way.”

How do you streamline minority certification without making it easier for white-owned “fronts” to game the system like they have for decades?

“We’re never gonna entirely eliminate abuse because this is a human enterprise. … There will be people who will try to take advantage of it,” Preckwinkle said.

“Our job on the management side is to be vigilant, very careful about our monitoring, to catch people and to see that they are punished for their transgressions.”

Last month, the Emanuel administration outlined an $11 million plan to clean up Chicago’s corruption-filled minority set aside program – two weeks after a white owned construction giant was accused of using “pass throughs” on $200 million in city projects.

The $11 million will come from Allied Waste Transportation, a clout-heavy company that agreed to the penalty to cover “substantial shortfalls” in minority contracting on city contracts awarded over the last decade.

“That’s how you deal with fraud – by taking the $11 million which is the largest settlement ever and plowing it back into the system so we’ve hired more people who are inspecting and watching the system,” Emanuel said.