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New procurement chief gets advice on ways to bolster minority contracting

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Chicago City Hall. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointment of Shannon Andrews as Chicago’s $180,000-a-year chief procurement officer sailed through a City Council committee Tuesday with some advice on ways to bolster minority contracting.

Andrews, who has held the same job for Cook County, replaces her former boss, Jamie Rhee, who is moving on to become the city’s $275,000-a-year aviation commissioner.

Prior to joining the county, Andrews worked under Rhee, first as her spokesperson, then as a top deputy.

“Welcome back home,” Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) told Andrews, as the new procurement chief accepted a bouquet of flowers and a round of applause.

Shannon Andrews

Shannon Andrews is the city’s new chief procurement officer; she replaces her former boss, Jamie Rhee, who has been named to the aviation commissioner’s post.
| Provided

Although Andrews was warmly received, she has big shoes to fill and a big job ahead to make certain that blacks and Hispanics get their fair share of the bonanza of jobs and contracts tied to the $8.7 billion O’Hare Airport expansion project.

Last fall, aldermen were surprised and dismayed to learn that companies owned by minorities and women shared 29 percent piece of the city’s contracting pie, but African-Americans still lagged behind, with an 8 percent sliver. That was down from 11 percent a year ago.

What was surprising about the decline was the fact that it came at a time when Emanuel and Rhee had proposed a steady stream of incentive and outreach programs aimed at sharing the wealth, building capacity and eliminating longstanding impediments to minority contracting.

In fact, there are so many incentive programs — 16 at last count — Rhee developed a new guide book to help contractors keep track of them all.

Under questioning from aldermen at Tuesday’s confirmation hearing, Andrews pointed to that salad bar of incentives when asked what she plans to do to bolster minority contracting in general and black contracting in particular.

“I’m in a fortunate position from the standpoint that the current CPO Jamie Rhee — under the mayor’s leadership and with this council’s heavy lifting — has really implemented a lot of programs and initiatives,” Andrews said.

“This council has passed numerous ordinances to ensure that the tools and resources are there for minorities, women, veterans, disabled owned businesses to be able to be successful. From Day One, I’ll have the opportunity to . . . look at ways to implement and enhance those programs.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) urged Andrews to find out why so many minority contractors, particularly companies owned by Hispanics, choose not to go through the certification process that gives them a leg up on city contracts.

“There seems to be just a general aversion, particularly in Latino communities, of wanting to engage in that process,” Lopez said, urging Andrews to “bolster those numbers.”

“If our companies aren’t certified, they’re basically left out. And there’s a number of reasons why they try not to be certified or don’t want to become certified. Some stemming from [late] payment or other issues,” Lopez said.

“I would just impress upon you, using your vast knowledge of procurement on both sides of this building, to work with us to try and ensure that we can maximize the community’s potential to its fullest.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) echoed those certification concerns.

He urged Andrews to “streamline” a process deliberately made rigorous to weed out white-owned “front” companies after repeated scandals during the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) urged Andrews to look closely at the process used to award job-order-contracts “to ensure that minority firms, African-American firms, that are included in that program are getting their fair share of opportunities through the infrastructure department that have those contracts.”

When the decline in black contracting was reported last fall, Rhee said then she was not at all discouraged.

She argued that the latest figures were “payments from contracts that have been in place for three, five, six years” and that the incentive programs needed time to “start taking off.”

“You’ll see participation change in years to come. We are growing capacity,” she said then.

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