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City Council on Track to Create Equal Opportunity Department

Pittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to legislation that would give city government the ability to crack down on contractors who flout Pittsburgh's equal opportunity requirements while doing business with the city.

If it's given final passage by City Council Tuesday, legislation from Councilmen Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle would create the Department of Equal Opportunity. The new agency would take on many of the duties of the current Equal Opportunity Review Commission (EORC), but the sponsors say the new department status would allow the group to impose sanctions on vendors who break the laws for minority and women participation in city contracts.

"We've not had any ability to stop monies, even when they've found out that there has been something wrong or nefarious occurring," said Councilman Burgess. "This actually gives them sanctions -- an ability to stop payments, an order to disqualify contractors from future stuff, other things that they can do -- so, for the first time, we'll have a department with real power and real authority."

In addition to granting the new sanctioning powers, the legislation would require the Department of Equal Opportunity to make quarterly reports to Council and the mayor on the participation levels of women- and minority-owned vendors in city contracting. In order to make that reporting easier, EORC Manager Phillippe Petite said the bills require all city departments and authorities to submit contract data in a standardized format every three months.

"Finally I believe in this legislation" -EORC Manager Phillippe Petite

Petite said that information currently comes in from the departments and authorities in a wide range of timeframes and formats, making it hard to process. Such reports often only include estimated payouts to women- and minority-owned businesses, rather than real numbers. Under the new bill, city agencies would be obligated to include the actual amounts paid to such companies.

"We, finally I believe in this legislation, will be able to capture the data that everyone wants to look at, in terms of actual numbers," said Petite. "But also, it increases opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses to actually become the primary contractor or the primary vendor."

In addition, the package of four bills would fund a new disparity study in Pittsburgh. The research would be based on a study done in the late 1990s, which found that the city did not contract with women- and minority-owned firms very often and could do more to promote such contracts.

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