FORT WAYNE – Skeptical Fort Wayne City Council members delayed a decision Tuesday on hiring a firm to study whether the administration is hiring enough women- and minority-owned businesses for city contracts.
City officials had asked the council to approve spending $43,849 to hire Mason Tillman Associates for the study; the total cost of the study is $100,000 higher, but the administration has dedicated $100,000 from its federal Community Development Block Grant toward the cost.
Because the amount to be spent from the General Fund was less than $100,000, the request didnt need council approval, but officials said they wanted it because a second-phase later on, if needed, could cost an additional $90,000 and they wanted to be transparent from the beginning.
The proposed study would create a comprehensive list of businesses in the city and whether they have the ability to bid on city contracts.
When we bring more businesses to the table, we reduce costs, the citys Brent Wake said. We need to find out whos bidding and whos not bidding.
Wake said that in 2011, the city spent $77 million on construction contracts. Of that amount, only 0.9 percent went to minority-owned firms, down from 1.4 percent the year before.
He said 1.6 percent went to women-owned firms, down from 3.8 percent in 2011.
If the study shows the city is knowingly or unknowingly discriminating against these businesses, officials said, the data collected would give the city the knowledge it needs to correct the situation and defend those remedies in court, if needed.
Weve all heard anecdotal evidence from small businesses about the barriers to doing business with the city of Fort Wayne, City Attorney Carol Helton said.
Some council members were not convinced.
John Crawford, R-at large, had a three-page written statement prepared opposing the study, pointing out that the city already has a compliance department charged with ensuring there is no discrimination taking place.
Tom Smith, R-1st, also said he believed the work could be done by city staff, and expressed concern that the remedies could result in set-asides or quotas. Mitch Harper, R-4th, said in one city the remedy was that women- or minority-owned businesses whose bids were up to 10 percent higher would be viewed as equal.
Could the taxpayers be asked to pay 5 percent to 10 percent more to hire a woman- or minority-owned business? Harper asked. Is that on the table?
Helton said it depends, based on what the study finds.
The citys Heather Presley-Cowan said the city has been working diligently to include more of these businesses in its bidding process, but they still hear that businesses dont feel welcome.
I think if the Chamber were here, or the Black Chamber were here, or the Hispanic Chamber were here, they would have a different answer, Presley-Cowan said. Businesses say they wont do business with the city because they believe the city doesnt want to do business with them.
The council will take up the measure again next week.
Bike laws updated
In other business, council members approved an update to the citys traffic laws to clarify how bicyclists, pedestrians and cars interact on the citys streets and sidewalks. The changes allow for new developments, such as the bike lanes downtown, and clarify that bikes are allowed on both sidewalks and streets, but must follow the rules on each.
When on sidewalks, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians; when on the road, bicyclists must follow the same rules as cars.
Anne Ellis, a bicycling instructor for the League of American Bicyclists said especially praise-worthy was the passage requiring cars to give at least 3 feet of space when passing a bike.
It means no longer brushing my elbow. Its no longer worrying about their mirrors, Ellis said.
The measure will be considered for final approval next week.