Hiring meeting at EBDI goes nowhere

Daily Record Business Writer//April 17, 2012

Hiring meeting at EBDI goes nowhere

By Melody Simmons

//Daily Record Business Writer

//April 17, 2012

A meeting that included developers and city politicians to discuss revisions to local hiring goals for the $1.8 billion redevelopment of Middle East was ended abruptly Tuesday by East Baltimore Development Inc. officials after members of the community refused to leave the work session.

Cheryl Washington, EBDI’s senior director of community and human services, halted the meeting minutes after it began, citing the gathering as a “closed session.”

“We’re presenting information that isn’t public,” Washington explained. “We had a closed meeting scheduled.”

Click to see all EBDI related storiesAfterward, Washington explained that the session was intended to collect data from developers, including Scott Levitan, senior vice president of Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, EBDI’s master developer, and developers of ongoing projects at the 88-acre site that include a $60 million graduate student tower for the Johns Hopkins University students and an adjacent $30 million parking garage.

“Our goal has always been to increase our local hiring goals,” Washington said. “We want to ask: Are our goals high enough to create job opportunities? And we wanted to have a healthy debate about what the numbers should be.”

Local hiring has been a flashpoint at the massive project for the last year.

EBDI has set benchmarks to award 27 percent of the total cost of each contract to minority contractors, Washington said. Local residents in 11 ZIP codes are given priority for hiring, according to an August 2011 economic opportunity plan.

The plan also states that in commercial projects, at least 15 percent of the total skilled and unskilled work hours must be performed by local minority and women residents. Current and former EBDI residents are to be given first priority, the plan states.

But critics say those hires have been slow to take place. Last month, four protestors were arrested at the site during a march to demand that local residents be hired for construction jobs there. It was the third march on the EBDI site since December by protesters demanding jobs.

EBDI has set up a “workforce pipeline” of residents from the community and the city that Washington oversees to help contractors and developers hire local workers. The most recent data available on the EBDI website, from the calendar year 2011, show that the pipeline had 231 registered members and that out of a total of 101 jobs last year, 36 were inside the project area.

The data does not specify if those jobs were full -time, part-time or temporary.

Washington, who was hired at EBDI in 2004, said the hiring goals at the nonprofit are in need of a revision, and Tuesday’s meeting was a starting point.

She said EBDI plans to use the results of a new citywide “disparity” study on minority and woman-owned business hiring. The city’s Board of Estimates is expected to vote Wednesday on a $694,730 contract for that study by one of five bidders, Washington-based National Economic Research Associates Inc.

In addition, the new hiring goals are expected to be discussed in a public meeting scheduled for April 25 at 5 p.m. at EBDI’s headquarters in the 1700 block of East Chase Street.

“We invite all voices to the table,” Washington said. “My goal is to increase and maximize opportunities in the area.”

‘This is all about ego’

Thurman Zollicoffer Jr., a member of the EBDI board who is also a former city solicitor and now a partner at Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLP, said the refusal of community leaders to leave Tuesday’s meeting was offensive.

“We are trying to put together the goals of local hiring goals,” he said after the meeting was ended. “We’re not trying to be secretive or do anything behind closed doors. We want to speak frankly and get it right, to argue amongst ourselves.”

Zollicoffer said one community leader, Lawrence Brown, a doctoral fellow at Morgan State University and secretary of the grassroots Middle East organization known as the Community Housing and Relocation Workgroup, was attempting to “hijack the meeting” by refusing to leave.

Another community leader, Richie Armstrong, an organizer with Community Churches United, a group affiliated with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, also refused to leave Tuesday’s meeting. He was arrested March 29 during the protest at the EBDI site.

Armstrong said his group has trained 100 local residents for construction jobs, and that only one of them has been hired so far to work at the site. But Christopher Shea, CEO of EBDI, has said that Armstrong has not followed through on his promise to refer prospective workers to EBDI.

“There are people with their own agenda,” Zollicoffer said, of Brown. “This was a session that was attempted to be hijacked by Dr. Brown. This is all about his ego.”

“EBDI hijacked the Middle East community and relocated the homes, lives and dreams of over 700 families who lived there if you want to talk about hijacking,” Brown replied. “There’s some basic questions we have to ask in light of that: What is it that they are hiding? Why don’t they don’t want to share with the community? Why a closed meeting in the first place?”


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