AA Chamber says city ‘bundlIng’ contracts; Calls practice unfriendly to minority businesses

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Doris Carson Williams, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania said at least one city of Pittsburgh department is limiting access to contracts for Minority- Women- and Disabled-Business Enterprises by bundling contracts.

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DORIS CARSON WILLIAMS

“Bundling several contracts into a package and awarding it to one large firm retards economic development, job creation and retention,” she said. “It all but eliminates small firms, not to mention MBE firms.”

On Feb. 22, Williams sent a letter to city Department of Public Works Director Robert Kaczorowski, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and all nine city council members noting that during an earlier required pre-bid meeting for an architectural services contract, documentation given to bidders encouraged bundling contracts and using MWDBEs as subcontractors to meet diversity goals.

The chamber works to improve business and professional opportunities for African American Business owners and professionals and to advance economic parity by ensuring full participation in the public and private sectors throughout the region.

In her letter, Williams said setting subcontracting goals as the means for providing minority opportunities is a “failed and antiquated method of inclusion.”

“The development-friendly way to do it would be to award several contracts to large, medium and small businesses, in particular small MBEs,” she said. “This (current) practice prevents fair and equal participation for small firms and MBEs and we will challenge it whenever it is presented.”

Though Williams ended her letter asking for a prompt and positive response, when contacted by the New Pittsburgh Courier March 1, Kaczorowski, said he hadn’t looked at it yet.

“This is the first time I’ve heard a complaint about the language in the bid documents,” he said. “I don’t really deal with that. Pat Hasset could talk about the language, but he won’t be back in the office for a few more days, so I’d probably have to refer that to the Law Department.”

City Equal Opportunity Commission Manager Phil Petite said he had not seen Williams’ letter but said he wouldn’t expect to see such language in any city bid packages because professional service contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder.

A spokesman for Councilman Bruce Kraus, who chairs the Public Works Committee, said he had not received the letter. Council President Darlene Harris’s office staff was also unsure if the letter had arrived.

Ravenstahl’s spokesperson Joanna Doven said the mayor had planned to introduce an ordinance that would adjust the way city bid packages are distributed to MWDBEs, but it was delayed when the city had to focus on dealing with the February snowstorms.

“The plan now is to introduce it next week,” she said.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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