Broward News

Should Broward County Require Government Contractors to Hire Locals?

Bullying is bad, right?

Well, what if the bullying comes from a bunch of pastors and church leaders who are trying to bully / prod / embarrass / force county commissioners into doing something good for the community?

BOLD Justice (Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice) is a group comprised of members from 20 different congregations in Broward County. Each year, the group chooses one community problem -- in the past, it has tackled drug rehabilitation and public housing -- then spends the year devising potential solutions. Once a year, the group hosts a big meeting and invites all the congregants from its various churches -- several thousand show up. They also invite politicians and put them on the spot as they ask them publicly: Are you going to support this measure or not?

"Some commissioners wimp out and don't come," an insider says. "In the first year, nine were invited and only one showed."

But over the years, they've learned not to mess with the church ladies (and menfolk).

"There are those we are not happy with the reason they're not there -- and we will point that out at the meeting," the insider says.

This Monday, March 18, BOLD Justice leaders will "gather to demand the Broward County Commissioners adopt a plan that will ensure that people who live in Broward County receive jobs on contracts given by the county," they explained in a statement.

They will also be asking that the School Board implement a reading program for elementary school students.

In a make-no-bones communique about the event, leaders wrote, "We will be holding our politicians and School Board accountable for unemployment and dismal reading scores. Over 67,000 people in Broward County are unemployed and 44% of Broward County third graders cannot read at grade level."

Among the church leaders are Pastor Michael Anderson of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Hollywood and Reverend David Range of Miramar United Methodist Church.

"Broward County gives out around $600 million worth of contracts every year," Anderson said in a statement. "We have more than 67,000 people unemployed here. But there is nothing that requires companies awared those contracts to consider Broward Citizens in their hiring process. That needs to change."

Politicians expected include School Board member Roslyn Azlod, and county commissioners Dale Holness, Tim Ryan, and Martin Kiar. All nine commissioners were invited, according to organizers.

Commissioner Holness said he wouldn't be bullied but he was on the group's side. "We are working with [BOLD Justice] to design something that would help the people in the community, especially the people who are having a hard time finding jobs, when we contract and spend taxpayers' dollars." He suggested they would model rules on similar ordinances in other municipalities, and that any measure would be more carrot than stick.

He says a measure could be designed to require contractors who are hiring to "look first to Workforce One, to individuals who are unemployed... who are at an economic disadvantage, people who have had a hard time finding work, like ex-felons."

He insisted any such measure would "not be something we use to beat business over the head with" but would encourage companies to "utilize opportunities to do business with the county to help build up the weakest in our community to get stronger - that's basically the concept." He said that companies would be exempted if they already have a certain number locals on the payroll or if they needed highly skilled labor. He also insisted that he would not offer tax incentives, but that if companies hired locals, "it would give them an advantage in the process of obtaining contracts."

"When we help the weakest become stronger, we build a community that is stronger and nation that is stronger as a whole. When ex-felons cant find a job even when they are trying their best to, that's not godo for the nation."

Church members also want the School Board to let them implement a reading program called Direct Instruction, which BOLD Justice says "is proven effective to help students learn to read. We asked the School Board to put this program into effect but the Superintendent only agreed to one school - and we had to come up with the money for it! Direct Instruction agreed to pay for this one school, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, and they began the program in January. Right now that program is serving 300 students - but we want more!" They will ask for the program to be implemented in five additional schools.

The BOLD Justice event takes place at Dillard High School (2501 NW 11th Street, Fort Lauderdale) in the gym at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 18.

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Deirdra Funcheon