SOUTH BEND — For decades, there’s been a widely held perception among minorities that they haven’t received a fair shot at bidding on city contracts.
For the first time, the city has launched an effort to put hard numbers to that perception.
It’s paying $250,000 to Oakland, Calif.-based Colette Holt & Associates, a nationally known consultant with expertise in affirmative action and contract compliance, to conduct a “disparity study.” When it’s finished about a year from now, the study will yield a disparity ratio that the city could use to set goals for contracting with minority-owned firms, as many larger cities have.
The consultant will arrive at that ratio by dividing the number of minority- and women-owned firms available in the market by the number of city contracts that have been awarded to such firms in recent years.
Holt and Christina Brooks, hired by Mayor Pete Buttigieg in 2016 to be the city’s diversity and inclusion officer, on Friday held a meeting at the Charles Martin Youth Center to tell the public about the project and ask for their help. For the quantitative part of the study, Brooks said, her two interns have spent months building a database of 272 city contracts valued at more than $50,000, awarded in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Holt’s team will analyze that data to compute the disparity ratio.
Holt said establishing that ratio is the first step that will give the city a legal foundation for setting goals on the percentage of city contracts awarded to minority-owned firms — the type of program that white male-owned businesses, alleging reverse discrimination, have challenged in federal courts across the country.