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Race, gender and city contracts
Council OKs remedies for underutilized vendors
 
Published Monday, April 15, 2013 2:57 pm
by Herbert L. White

Charlotte is heading back to limited use of race and gender goals in vendor contracting.


City Council last week voted 9-2 to include specific race and gender goals in the city’s Small Business Opportunity program in order to increase the hiring of minority- and women-owned businesses. The new program, called Charlotte Inclusion, will take effect in July. City Council member James Mitchell touts it as a combination of race-conscious and race neutral.


"It's about connecting our MWSBE to opportunities with the city of Charlotte," he said.


Charlotte dropped race and gender hiring goals a decade ago due to fears of reverse-discrimination lawsuits and opted to focus on boosting participation for small businesses as a whole. Charlotte Inclusion adds remedies that supporters contend will give underutilized vendors an opportunity to compete for city contracts without putting the city at risk of lawsuits.


"It will pass the legal muster now," Mitchell said. "We're sure. That's why we spent so much time …a whole year making sure we got it right and making sure it'll pass the legal test."


African-American and women business advocates have long criticized government procurement programs for a lack of oversight and commitment to goals. In a White Paper published last month for the National Black Chamber of Commerce, contracting consultant Gabe Jaja criticized the lack of transparency.


"Among other things, the record keeping process is very antiquated, reports are not meaningful, and most of the stakeholders are kept out of the loop on critical project status information by untimely or long reporting intervals," he wrote. "In addition, data reported to the procurement organization requires further compilation and interpretation to become useful. Taken together, these inhibit transparency and promote a culture of unaccountability."


In recent years, some council members pushed for changes to the city program after a 2010 study by consultant MGT America found minority- and women-owned firms weren’t receiving as much in city contracts. MGT, however, didn't recommend changes to the small business program and City Council hired another consultant, the Baltimore law firm Tydings & Rosenburg, which recommended specific goals.


"When you look at the 2011 disparity study, it showed there was some disparity in certain areas," Mitchell said.  "When we brought in (Tydings & Rosenburg consultant) Franklin Lee to really address it, he said we needed a race-conscious program for those categories."



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