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Pittsburgh fails to keep promise on tracking minority contracts

Thursday, July 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Pittsburgh's efforts to fix a broken system of tracking whether minorities and women are getting their fair share of city contracts are on hold until the next mayor takes office, city officials said.

City Council passed legislation in December to establish an Equal Opportunity Review Department, hire someone to head the department and buy tracking software, but the mayor's office has done none of those things or budgeted money for them.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Wednesday referred questions to Operations Director Duane Ashley, who said it would be pointless to hire a director with no job guarantee under a new administration. Ravenstahl is not running for re-election.

“We've been essentially just making do until the new administration comes in,” Ashley said.

Phil Petite, who manages the city's Equal Opportunity and Review Commission, a panel that council's legislation disbands in favor of the new department, said his employees are issuing reports tracking contracts. Ashley, however, would not release them.

“It's being tracked,” Petite said.

The Tribune-Review reported last summer that Pittsburgh and Allegheny County leaders promised, but never confirmed, that minority- and female-owned businesses were getting legally required percentages of business worth millions of dollars annually. City ordinance requires 18 percent and 7 percent of the value of all contracts awarded to go minority-owned and female-owned companies, respectively.

Controller Michael Lamb released an audit last year confirming the Trib's findings that the commission released a report with inflated numbers indicating that Pittsburgh exceeded its benchmarks on $195 million worth of contracts in 2011.

Councilman Bill Peduto, who won the Democratic nomination for mayor, and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said they've discussed a possible joint city-county effort to ensure all departments and authorities in both governments are hitting similar goals.

Allegheny County requires that 13 percent of the value of all contracts annually go to minority-owned businesses, and 2 percent go to female-owned businesses.

Peduto said contracts should be broken down into multiple bid packages to make it easier for smaller companies owned by minorities and women to bid on them. He said he would make tracking information readily available to the public.

“To me, that would be the way to go,” Fitzgerald said of a joint effort. “Hopefully, after November ... that would be something we can do.”

Peduto's Republican opponent, Josh Wander, said his administration would give everyone a fair shot at contracts.

“If there's a corrupt system, and they're hiring (companies) based on cronyism, then that's when you start to have discrepancy,” he said. “I am against quotas, and I'm going to get rid of those kinds of things.”

T. Rashad Byrdsong, who heads the Homewood-based Community Empowerment Association Inc., said the lack of action is hurting Pittsburgh's black and female business owners.

“It's real clear that it's business as usual,” he said. “The lack of access to resources is putting our community farther into harm's way.”

“The program has been a farce at every level,” said Louis “Hop” Kendrick of Lincoln-Lemington, who once headed Allegheny County's minority business office.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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