Pittsburgh seeks percentage of contracting funds for women, minority-owned businesses

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Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess on Tuesday introduced legislation aimed at yielding a better picture of how much city-related business goes to minority- and women-owned firms.

The legislation would require the city's Equal Opportunity Review Commission to document the amount of money annually paid to the firms through city and city authority contracts. Currently, the commission produces an annual report showing winning bidders' plans for funneling business to minority- and women-owned firms, a figure that Mr. Burgess said can vary significantly from amounts actually expended.

Mr. Burgess also introduced a second bill that would house the freestanding commission within a new Department of Equal Opportunity, with a director reporting directly to the mayor. He believes the change would give the commission's work a higher profile and more clout.

Phillipe R. Petite, commission manager, said the agency, which reviews construction and development contracts of $200,000 or more and professional services contracts of $25,000 or more, welcomes Mr. Burgess' legislation. However, he said the commission has had limited success in gathering payment data, partly because some projects, such as stadium construction, last for years.

While the commission has been doing "the best we can do," the lack of payment data is a "weakness," Mr. Petite said.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl supports Mr. Burgess' legislation "and will do what he can to make sure an effective tracking system is implemented. This should have been happening all along, and it's unacceptable that the head of our EOC was not tracking this," he said, adding that the city, at Mr. Ravenstahl's direction, has held seminars to raise awareness of contracting opportunities.

Mr. Petite said the commission's goals are for at least 18 percent of a contract's dollars to go to minority-owned firms and at least 7 percent to go to women-owned firms. When payment data are gathered, he said, he's confident they will show those targets are close to being met.

Mr. Burgess said he anticipated payment data when he pushed through legislation about five years ago requiring the commission to produce its annual report. Now, he said, he's "specifying what their work will entail."

Also on Tuesday, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle introduced legislation calling for an update to the city's "disparity study" to determine whether minority- and women-owned firms are at a disadvantage in city-related contracting. If the findings point to disparity, the city may develop new programs to help the firms catch up.

neigh_city - businessnews

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published June 27, 2012 12:00 AM


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