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Pittsburgh City Council moves to accurately track contracts with minorities

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 11:58 a.m.

Pittsburgh promises women and minorities they'll win a fair share of construction contracts worth millions each year, but until Wednesday officials did little to ensure the city would keep that promise.

City Council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would rectify the problem.

The legislation, sponsored by Councilman Ricky Burgess, authorizes the city's Equal Opportunity Review Commission to accurately track minority- and female-owned business participation in city contracts. It enables the commission to penalize contractors who violate quotas, by terminating their contracts.

T. Rashad Byrdsong of Homewood, president and CEO of Community Empowerment Association, called the bill a first step and said he hopes future steps include training minorities for construction jobs.

“I think there's a good-faith effort from sincere people to begin to talk about the issue,” he said. “We have to see later, in terms of implementation and application.”

The bill elevates the commission to department level, meaning its director would report directly to the mayor and council.

“For the first time, we'll have a department with real power and real authority,” Burgess said. “We're creating a mechanism that provides an in-house department that has the capability to monitor, and to enforce, and to advocate and to report to council.”

An audit by Controller Michael Lamb confirmed a June report in the Tribune-Review that found the commission failed to carry out its core function of ensuring 18 percent minority and 7 percent female representation in contracts.

The commission reviewed contracts worth about $195 million in 2011 and reported the city met mandated quotas but never checked to see whether the businesses actually got the work.

“I'm glad that council has recognized this as a problem and today took some steps to do something about it,” Lamb said.

The Trib also reported that Allegheny County failed to make sure it met goals of 18 percent minority and 2 percent female representation in county contracts.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said the county is taking steps to ensure its Department of Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise tracks county contracts and determines which ones go to minorities and women.

Fitzgerald spokeswoman Amie Downs said a review of the office is continuing. She declined to comment further.

The director of the new-look commission would be appointed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, confirmed by council and paid $70,000 to $90,000, Burgess said.

The bill says the city must buy software for the commission to track and verify how much work minority and female businesses receive, and issue quarterly and yearly reports to council and the mayor.

Council gave preliminary approval to a separate bill, sponsored by Councilman Daniel Lavelle, that commits $250,000 to study racial and gender inequalities in Pittsburgh and how that affects who wins contracts.

Money for the software, the study and the director's salary would be included in the city's 2013 budget, Burgess said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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