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Minority Contracting Department approved by City Council

After the New Pittsburgh Courier reported in June that Pittsburgh’s Equal Opportunity Review Commission was failing to report accurate minority contracting levels, city Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess sponsored legislation to create a city department that would remedy the problem.

City Council has authorized creating a Department of Equal Opportunity, whose director would report directly to the mayor and council. Not only would the new agency collect and report inclusion plans for minorities and women on city contracts, it would monitor them to see that minority subcontractors are actually employed.

In cases where they are not, the department would be able to withhold payment to prime contractors and even suspend contracts.

“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.”

The New Pittsburgh Courier noted problems with the EEOC ‘s 2011 contracting report after discovering several minority contractors had been listed as receiving millions in contracts they never got.

Review Commission Director Phil Petite said he recorded the minority participation plans submitted to the commission by contractors working with the city or its authorities. Recording the actual utilization, he said was the responsibility of those departments or authorities.

“There is no comprehensive report of utilization by the city and its authorities,” he said in June. “We probably should, so we can reconcile these reports.”

The new department would do so, Burgess said. The legislation also calls for the city to purchase new computer software so that contracting participation data can be collected and monitored across multiple departments and authorities. The department will also be required to submit quarterly reports on participation to council and the mayor.

“This will allow the department to track the dispersal of monies to minority and women contractors in real time,” he said. “Structurally, the department will look much the same. Plans for participation will be submitted to the commission for approval, but now those contracts will be monitored closely. Before, as Phil said, he did not have the resources or the charge to do so. Now he does. The problem isn’t manpower, it’s resources and direction. The process is now more aggressive and targeted.”

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who co-sponsored the bill, called it “a critical piece of legislation.”

Council also approved companion legislation submitted by Lavelle to spend $250,000 on a disparity study to get an accurate assessment of minority businesses in Pittsburgh. The last such study was conducted after the 2000 census and cannot be used to set contracting participation goals.

City controller Michael Lamb, who had been conducting a regularly scheduled performance audit of the EORC at the time of the Courier report, said he was pleased by council’s approval.

“For too long the EORC has operated without proper enforcement,” he said. “I am glad we were able to shed some light on the accuracy of MWBE contract reporting and I appreciate that council recognizes the need for this kind of change.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has indicated his support for the legislation.

“We want this done right, and we will be putting the resources behind the commission to make sure it can get the job done,” he said.

Press Secretary Joanna Doven said the city will go through the standard procedures required when selecting someone to head the new department, and estimated the Mayor would be able to submit a candidate for council approval within six months.

Funding for the department, including the software and the $70,000-$90,000 director’s salary, and the disparity study will be in the 2013 budget.

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