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Hiring goals based on race, gender closer

Charlotte City Council ponders changes to small business program

In an effort to boost the use of minority contractors, the city of Charlotte moved closer Monday to adding race- and gender-specific goals to its Small Business Opportunity Program.

The city stopped having race and gender targets for hiring a decade ago under the fear of litigation. The city instead focused on trying to steer city contracts to small businesses, hoping that women and minority-owned firms would benefit.

But some council members have pushed for the changes after a consultant, MGT America, found in 2010 that minority and women-owned firms weren’t receiving as much work as the city had hoped. MGT, however, did not recommend any changes to the city’s small business program.

In a controversial decision, the City Council then hired a second consultant, the Baltimore law firm Tydings & Rosenburg, which recommended the city set specific goals for such firms. At the time, one council member, Republican Warren Cooksey, said the council was “consultant shopping.”

But at a public hearing on the issue Monday night, a handful of attorneys and business people spoke in favor of the change.

“Under the old program, more African-America contractors participated,” said Stephanie Berwald, president of the Metrolina Minority Contractors Association. “When it was eliminated, the number went down drastically.”

In early March, city staff recommended a number of changes, including adding race- and gender-specific goals for city contracts. In addition, the city plans to increase the threshold for contracts in which formal bids must be taken, from $200,000 to $500,000.

If the council approves the changes, they would go into effect July 1.

The council will probably take a vote on the changes later this spring.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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