Minorities' Role in City Contracts Not Tracked

By Bauder, Bob | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Minorities' Role in City Contracts Not Tracked


Bauder, Bob, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The city of Pittsburgh promises minorities and women a fair chance at winning construction and procurement contracts worth millions of dollars each year, but nobody in government knows whether the city honors that guarantee.

That's because neither the Ravenstahl administration nor its Equal Opportunity Review Commission, responsible for ensuring minority participation, checks to see whether minority- and female- owned companies are working.

Councilman Ricky Burgess plans to introduce legislation today that would clearly define the role of the city's six-person office with a $266,657 operating budget and how it must monitor city contracts.

"Somebody should be tracking it," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who said he was surprised to learn the commission does not document participation.

In its annual report for 2011, the commission claims Pittsburgh exceeded its goals of 18 percent minority and 7 percent female participation in contracts totaling about $195 million.

Observers say the office inflated those numbers.

"It's deception. It's lying," said Louis "Hop" Kendrick of Lincoln-Lemington, who once headed Allegheny County's minority business office. "Anyone who picks up that (report) and reads it comes away with the conclusion that it is a book of fact. I believe that the numbers were manufactured."

The office reviews contracts let by the city and its authorities before work begins but does not follow up to make sure minority contractors perform and get paid, EORC Director Phillipe Petite said.

Petite said the annual report was never meant to show actual participation, even though legislation requires such documentation. That's an impossible task, he said, because of multiple-year contracts and the reluctance of Pittsburgh authorities to supply information.

Petite, who earns $72,951, defined the report as an "internal document" and said that for more than 10 years, no one complained about its content. Few people ever asked to see it, he said.

"We want to change it and really get actual numbers henceforth," he said.

City Controller Michael Lamb, who is auditing the report, said he found errors and contract duplications that "overstate" EORC's claim of 35.5 percent minority and female participation -- 10 percent higher than city goals.

"I wouldn't say it's a bunch of lies, but clearly it's not a reflection of what's going on," Lamb said.

For example, the report said Cosmos Technologies, a North Shore engineering company, received $180,000 in 2011 to provide the Pittsburgh Housing Authority with professional consulting as needed. Company owner Frederick Douglas said the firm only recently started work and has not been paid anything. …

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