Cincinnati City Council supports call for new Croson study

Findings could change city contracting rules

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati City Council voted Wednesday to use money from the city's controversial parking deal – or any other source of funds the city manager can identify – to pay for a Croson study.

Such a study is the next step officials must take in order to change the way the city awards contracts to businesses owned by women and minorities. The vote was unanimous.

The city currently uses a Small Business Enterprise program to award contracts. That program is race- and gender-neutral, and for years a small fraction of the city’s contracts have gone to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Croson decision established that cities must show evidence of past discrimination to legally justify programs that use race and gender as considerations to award contracts. The disparity studies conducted to find that evidence are referred to as Croson studies.

The studies aren’t cheap. They can range in cost from $400,000 to $1 million, according to city officials.

A motion dated Aug. 5 and signed by six members of council had directed the city administration to use money from the city's controversial parking plan to start the process to undertake a new Croson study. The motion directed city staff to report back on how much it will cost and how long it will take to complete the study at council’s first Budget and Finance Committee meeting in September. Council members amended the motion during their meeting Wednesday.

Former Councilman John Cranley, a leading mayoral candidate, earlier in the day had accused council of "trying to hold minority inclusion hostage to their bad parking plan."

"She can find half a million dollars if she's really serious," Cranley said of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who took the lead on the motion and is the other leading candidate in the mayor's race.

Qualls countered that money doesn't just get "found" and said she thought the parking revenue was an appropriate source of funding.

Apart from the political debate, though, local business leaders expressed support that the city is moving forward on the study.

“This is an investment in job creation for one out of every two Cincinnatians as well as a very good measure to reverse almost a 10-year trend of low contracting levels with minority- and woman-owned businesses,” said Sean Rugless, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce. "It's a big step."

Rugless noted that the city has had disappointing results in the percentage of contracts awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses for the past decade.

Council wants the study to include a review of programs in other cities comparable to Cincinnati and an analysis of recent legal decisions related to race- and gender-based programs.

Qualls, who is running for mayor, pushed for a Croson study in 2009, and Seelbach pushed for such a study in 2012. But those efforts didn’t go anywhere.

Qualls said the most important thing now is to find a consultant to do the study whose results could withstand a legal challenge if one is brought.

Cranley also has supported the idea of a new Croson study. He announced in July that, if elected, he would demand a Croson study be conducted during his first three months in office.

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