Cincinnati City Council elections: Michelle Dillingham offers economic inclusion plan

10-point proposal aimed at equity

CINCINNATI -- A first-time candidate for Cincinnati City Council is proposing a sweeping plan aimed at ensuring economic opportunity and inclusion.

Democrat Michelle Dillingham unveiled the 10-point plan Wednesday at an event in Evanston marking the 50th anniversary of the March in Washington.

Dillingham’s plan, dubbed "A Seat at the Table," calls for more diversity in city contracting, as well as in the purchase of goods and services by municipal government.

Between January and March, the city awarded 2.4 percent of its contracts to companies that identified themselves as black-owned businesses, 3.7 percent to businesses owned by white women, and none at all to Hispanic owners.

For comparison, African-Americans comprise 44.8 percent of Cincinnati’s population, while Hispanics account for 2.8 percent. 

Females make up 52.8 percent of the city's population.

City contracts should be competitively bid in order to promote supplier diversity, Dillingham said. Ensuring transparency, equity and accountability should be the primary criteria of public procurement policy.

Too often, city government has relied on no-bid contracts, change orders, special consultants and other methods to “game the system,” she added.

“In a city as diverse as Cincinnati there is no reason why the majority -- African-Americans, women, and Hispanics -- are getting such a small percentage of the contracts,” Dillingham said.

The proposal is one of the most detailed plans released by any non-incumbent running for City Council.

In total, 21 people are running for nine council seats. They include 10 Democrats, four Republicans, two Charterites and five independents.

Dillingham’s proposal also calls for the city cracking down on employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors.

When workers are misclassified, they are denied the benefits and protections provided to an employee under the law. Just as importantly, their salary isn’t reported for tax purposes, depriving the city of income.

Nationally, audits have found between 10 percent and 30 percent of employers misclassify workers. Even if 10 percent are unreported, that means Cincinnati would collect an additional $23 million each year in taxes, Dillingham said.

“It’s costing municipalities literally millions of dollars,” she said. “It doesn’t involve creating any legislation, it’s just enforcing what’s already on the books.”

Other aspects of Dillingham’s plan include more closely monitoring tax abatements granted to businesses, to ensure they are living up to their agreements for job creation; and more broadly publicizing openings on city boards and commissions.

Most openings only are posted at City Hall and advertised on the city’s website. Typically, the same small group of people is chosen to fill them, she said.

“It’s about letting the people of Cincinnati have the opportunity for active engagement in a real way,” she said. “How are people supposed to know when these openings occur?”

Dillingham, 40, is a social worker who also is president of the Kennedy Heights Community Council.

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