Sunday, September 19, 1999

County minority-work figure bests city

But it's still short of 15% goal for stadium contractors

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County continues to have more firms owned by minorities and women working on the new Bengals stadium than Cincinnati has working on the Fort Washington Way reconstruction.

        Through July, the city had awarded about 8 percent of $105 million worth of contracts to minority- or women-owned firms. The county had awarded about 11 percent of its $267 million in stadium contracts through July.

        The issue of minority participation has been controversial, mostly for the county. Last October, Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman Todd Portune suggested pursuing a lawsuit against the county for failing to live up to its promises in a 1995 agreement with the city, something former Councilman Dwight Tillery had proposed earlier.

        That agreement, a “memorandum of understanding” between the city and county, states the county has a goal of 15 percent participation in the project by minority- and women-owned firms. It was adopted before the 1996 vote to increase the county sales tax to fund construction of the new $404 million Bengals stadium and $299 million Reds ballpark.

        “My concern is the same no matter who's doing the counting — that there be some equity involved in all these projects going on in the city,” said James Clingman, president of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce.

        Mr. Clingman said his organization continues to work with both the city and county to improve their individual programs for minority contractors. Both the city and county have changed their programs over the past two years based on court decisions that challenge the notion of race-based set-asides.

        County Commission President Tom Neyer Jr. said the current figures show both governments are using “different but equally good-faith efforts to achieve a difficult objective.”

        “It's not a competition between the city and county,” Mr. Neyer said. “Both entities wish to increase minority participation. I think this illustrates there is no shortcut to building a diverse work force.”

        Unlike the county, the city is still using limited set-asides, where firms owned by minorities or women are guaranteed a certain share of the work for the nearly $280 million highway project.

        Under the city's guidelines, 7 percent of each contract that does not use federal money must go to minority-owned firms through subcontracting by the prime contractor. In addition, 5 percent of the project's nonfederal contracts must be set aside for minority contractors.

        On federally funded contracts, con tractors must subcontract 10 percent to minority firms. The city's overall minority participation goal for the Fort Washington Way project is 11.3 percent.

        Don Gindling, the city's Fort Washington Way construction manager, said the current 8 percent figure reflects the types of contracts that have been issued to date and the set-asides required by those contracts.

        “We expect to achieve the 11.3 percent participation overall,” he said.

        Mr. Portune said he couldn't comment on the figures without studying them. But he said the issue of filing a lawsuit against the county is pending in City Council's Community Development Committee.

        The city administration recommended that council drop the matter, saying the county was doing all it could. Council hasn't yet acted on that recommendation.

        Both the city and county are particularly proud of their minority work force numbers. City figures show 17.5 percent of the work on Fort Washington Way has been done by minorities, and 6.9 percent has been done by women.

        County figures show 18 percent of the work on the stadium has been done by minorities, and 5 percent has been done by women.

        Mr. Clingman said he hopes the community can reach a point where all the counting and numbers and percentages are no longer necessary.

        “This is probably the most construction ever undertaken in this city and in this region,” he said. “We need to get it right.”


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