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Company That Managed Construction Of Hartford Schools May Not Get 2nd Chance


December 12, 2009

HARTFORD - When Diggs Construction got the job to manage construction for the city school system in 2001, the support of the city's African-American Alliance was crucial.

"The last time was pretty much a really heavy lobbying effort for him," said Steve Harris, a member of the alliance and a former councilman.

Now, nearly nine years later, the city is getting ready to build four more schools and needs a program manager to lead the effort. And, just as he did in 2001, Dale Diggs has gone to the African-American Alliance and asked for its endorsement. This time, though, he got a different response.

"It wasn't quite the reception that he received the first time around," Harris said, referring to last week's meeting with Diggs at a city restaurant. "He said, 'I would like to have your support.' We didn't say one way or the other."

Seven firms responded to the city's request for proposals for program management services Friday. The program manager selected will manage construction at four schools Journalism and New Media High School, an International Baccalaureate school, Asian Studies Academy, and a CommPACT school at M.D. Fox School.

John Motley, head of the city's school building committee, said he plans an all-day session to review the bids sometime next week.

In 2001, the city's African American political leaders were squarely behind Diggs and his Kansas company, Diggs Construction.

They hoped the minority-owned firm would be sympathetic to their concerns, offer training to city residents and put them to work. The school building committee picked Diggs in December 2001.

In time, Diggs lost the support of the African American political leaders he so needed in 2001.

"Our point was that we didn't see the types of jobs for folks in the community that we thought we were going to see," Harris said.

Diggs told Harris and others last week that he had held up his end of his contract when it came to hiring minorities, but that the individual contractors needed to do better.

Still, Harris and others said they weren't satisfied.

"I think that people were courteous," Harris said, "but at the end of the day it's about jobs. And we didn't see any of those in our neighborhoods. ... We've got more certificates for going to damn programs, but we never wind up with jobs."

Diggs did not return a call for comment.

Last year, The Courant reported that three of the people on the school building committee that selected Diggs were later hired by the company. There were James Willingham, former executive director of the Urban League of Greater Hartford; former school building committee Chairman Louis Watkins; and D. Anwar Al-Ghani.

Documents provided by Diggs showed that Al-Ghani stood to be paid more than $680,000 for a contract for minority contract compliance oversight by the time his contract expired last April.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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