BSO to hire more female, minority contractors

November 18, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Board members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have adopted the city's minority contracting rules to expand the use of women and minorities on maintenance and renovation projects at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

In a resolution read before the Board of Estimates yesterday, BSO board members told city officials that while the orchestra had been inclusive in many areas, it failed to show the same level of diversity in its renovation contracts, which sometimes amount to millions of dollars.

City law requires projects paid for with city money to have at least 20 percent participation by minority-owned companies,and 3 percent involvement of firms owned by women. The BSO resolution commits the orchestra to using those guidelines for all future projects, whether funded with city dollars or private money.

"We decided that we would go beyond what we needed to do," John Gidwitz, the BSO's president.

The issue came to light when the BSO sought a $1 million bond issue to help with its $9 million renovation project, which is moving toward completion. The Maryland Minority Contractors' Association filed a protest against the bond issue because of concerns about minority participation.

Arnold M. Jolivet, president of the 1,000-member association, lashed out at the BSO yesterday over a letter that sought to reduce the percentage of minority participation in work paid for through the bond issue. The BSO made the request because of specialized work that it said could be performed by only two companies in the world.

"This letter is garbage," Jolivet told the estimates board. He called the letter "racist" for suggesting that minority contractors in the city could not do the specialized work.

"We have some of the most complex structural work in the city," Jolivet said.

Jolivet later withdrew his protest and praised the BSO for adopting the resolution on women and minorities. Gidwitz said the BSO is committed to inclusiveness and accepted the criticism that it had failed to push for diversity in its renovation projects. "When that was brought to our attention, we moved to rectify that," he said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hailed the BSO's resolution as a progressive step that he hopes will become a model for private companies throughout the city.

"It's a significant step forward in this community," Schmoke said. "It will make a profound statement in the private sector."

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