Tampa grapples with contracting ordinance

04/03/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Tampa City Council members today heard from a Chicago-based attorney with expertise in equal opportunity contracting, as they continue their journey to create an ordinance that would increase the city’s contracts with minority and women-owned businesses.

The attempt to create such an ordinance has been an issue with the city for nearly two years, ever since a recommendation from a consultant highlighted the disparity in local minority and women-owned businesses and prime contracts.

Collette Holt is experienced in working on diversity programs. She told the council it is a very contentious and litigious area of the law, and said the courts are increasingly hostile to affirmative action programs on the basis of race and gender.

The disparity study conducted two years ago by Oakland California based Tillman Assoiates found that minority and women-owned businesses in Tampa were adequately represented in construction and related subcontracts.

Holt told the council that she believes courts will not accept set-aside programs at this time. She said another problem is adequately collecting data to understand how big or small the lack of women and minority contacting actually is.

Hold said in the long term, the city should look at new types of evidence that speak to the question: what would happen in the absence of an affirmative action policy?

City Councilman Thomas Scott, just voted by his colleagues to chair the Council, has been the driving force behind such an ordinance. As he reviewed the latest proposal from Mayor Pam Iorio's administration, he told City Attorney David Smith he was still not happy at where the city was on such a proposal.

Smith disagreed, but admitted that acquiring data from contractors is still a work in progress.

City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said that even with budget issues presenting challenges to the council this year, they could not afford to slow down the collection of data from contractors on their representation of women or minorities.

Holt said that it was important to distinguish between the three different types of data.

But Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said Holt was going a bit afield from their concerns, which were simply to learn many women and small businesses that contractors had been using in city contracts.

Mulhern then expressed unhappiness that City Attorney David Smith has consistently cautioned about the legalities of such an ordinance, which she said was not what the council should be so concerned about. That seemed to light a fire under Smith, who said what Holt was telling the council was essentially what he has been saying.

Councilman Dingfelder said, in a perfect world, the city would have had a different study but are stuck with those results.

The Council appeared to coalesce around the idea that any type of ordinance must be written expressly to include local small businesses.

Scott said that without a commitment from the city to include more women or people of color in contracts, it was incumbent to create such a ordinance.

The next public hearing on the issue is May 1.

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