Diversity hiring expansion to include veteran and LGBTQ owned businesses postponed
A plan to expand the township's procurement of goods and services to include LGBTQ and veteran-owned businesses has been postponed.
The current ordinance, created in 1988 as the Business Set-Aside Program, sets a township goal of 15% for minority-owned and 7% for female-owned business participation in township contracts for purchases.
The new law would increase that number to at least 20% of products and services from not only minority and women-owned businesses, but veteran- and LGBTQ-owned businesses as well.
The ordinance to repeal the Business Set-Aside Program and replace it with the Diversity Inclusion Program was expected to be voted on after a second reading at the May 17 council meeting.
But Councilman Peter Yacobellis asked council members to put off the vote, stating he received notices that day from the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce and the township’s People with Disabilities Advisory Committee asking that they hold off.
Yacobellis said that the new ordinance isn’t up to the “same standards” presented in similar laws in Jersey City and Hoboken and that it doesn’t include businesses owned by people with disabilities. Those laws just require businesses to be registered with the national registry of LGBTQ-certified businesses and therefore would not require businesses to certify on a local registry as well.
“I believe in terms of definitions, in terms of diversity we should be referencing EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] terminology ... instead of trying to define them ourselves,” he said.
Yacobellis said he was also concerned with creating a separate application process for the township’s affirmative action officer when other municipalities refer to state or national registries for businesses owned by minorities, LGBTQ persons, veterans, people with disabilities or women.
“I would like us to wait one meeting and allow us to improve,” the councilman said, adding that he would also like to see the 20% number increased, considering the number of groups that would now be included.
“Leaving 80% for straight white men, frankly, is a lot,” he said.
In a May 17 email supplied by Yacobellis from Augusto "Gus" Penaranda, executive director of the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce, Penaranda asks the council to postpone the vote until Executive Order 295 can be carried out.
In May, Gov. Phil Murphy signed that order, which instructs the New Jersey Department of the Treasury to establish a state-backed certification program for LGBTQ-owned business enterprises. A list of such businesses would be available to the public.
“To that end, I am asking that the Township of Montclair consider postponing the vote just long enough to give the governor’s staff and treasury the time they need to get everything in place,” Penaranda wrote.
“The last thing anyone wants is to create confusion between all the different executive orders and resolutions discussing DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] and, in the case of EO #295, the state recognition of LGBT-owned businesses.
“We made a promise to the governor’s staff and treasury, and we ask as a chamber that you work with us and support their request as well.”
Councilman David Cummings, who penned the ordinance, said he had spoken to Penaranda, who was concerned that if Montclair passed it now, it could hurt businesses, but that the state wouldn’t have the certification process ready until at least August.
Cummings said that the township would be “putting a lot of money out to bid” over the next few months.
He said that Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino told him that he supported Montclair’s ordinance as long as it gets amended once the state creates the certification process.
“My concern is that if we do not pass this we go back to the previous set-aside that does not include the LGBTQ community and essentially only allows minority-owned business, women, Black, Hispanic and Portuguese, which is in that ordinance,” Cummings said.
“So we are going to revert back to a worse ordinance because we have one group that originally had an issue that Mr. Yacobellis brought up.”
Councilman Bob Russo, who is the council liaison to the People with Disabilities Advisory Committee, said the committee had reached out to him that day asking that the ordinance be put on hold until it could have input and the population it represents is included in the ordinance.
“If we are talking about inclusiveness and diversity, we can’t leave them out,” Russo said.
Cummings said, “There’s no reason we can’t have discussions with those individuals and amend. What really defines disability as a business owner? That’s something we really do need to address.”
He questioned why the questions arose “very late” and said that by not passing the ordinance the council was “kicking it down the curb further.”
“I shared this with the council on March 23 ... I gave it to them early enough to read it and share it with anybody and to come back with questions or answers,” Cummings said.
Mayor Sean Spiller suggested that the ordinance go through some suggested changes and then be presented at the next meeting on June 14.
Yacobellis said he doesn’t believe that the council has to wait until the treasury comes up with a registry to pass the ordinance, and that the township could rely on the national registry to solicit businesses.
Cummings said: “For all of us who say diversity is important: This is an opportunity to prove it.” His was the sole vote against tabling the ordinance.