To committee, or not to committee? That was the question briefly debated by the Mobile City Council this morning after Councilman CJ Small asked for an update on the mayor’s implementation of recommendations set forth by a disparity study undertaken by the previous administration.
The $30,000 study, which was delivered to the council and mayor Feb. 14, includes a list of several recommendations for the city to ensure that minority and women-owned businesses receive an equitable share of municipal contracts.
According to the study, a disparity is generally “a difference between two groups on an outcome of interest.” In contracting, researchers typically measure differences using a disparity ratio, which is calculated by dividing the number of minority-owned enterprises, expressed as a percentage of all available firms, by the share of contracts or contract dollars possessed by those enterprises.
Stimpson is out-of-town until tomorrow on a confidential economic development trip, according to Communications Director George Talbot, but Chief of Staff Colby Cooper told the council the administration received the study and is “working in good faith” to review the recommendations and ensure minority-owned enterprises are treated fairly. However, Cooper stopped short of providing specifics or a timeline.
Councilmen Fred Richardson and Levon Manzie suggested the council appoint an ad hoc citizen committee to keep momentum on the recommendations, but Joel Daves said that would only slow them down.
“I’m not opposed to the idea, but the people who prepared study have provided a number of recommendations, so I’m not sure what added value we get from a committee of citizens when there are already recommendations,” he said. “We know what our starting point is. It seems to me we ask the administration to report back to us giving us the numbers and how we are advancing toward the goal. Appointing a committee pushes back the execution of the procedures to address the problem down the road.”
Richardson suggested that a committee could study what other cities are doing and recommend a new ordinance or legislative act specifically to combat disparity, which the study found exists in Mobile — sometimes to a “significant” degree — particularly in areas of construction and goods and services. But the report also notes that a finding of disparity “does not necessarily imply discrimination because a number of factors could cause the difference, which is a matter for another more extensive and in-depth study.”
Among the study’s recommendations are to compile and regularly update a minority and women-owned vendor list, to upgrade the Purchasing Department’s procurement software to better analyze and combat disparity and to hire a full-time independent compliance officer.
Manzie said looking beyond the recommendations, he would expect a citizens committee to outline specific steps to achieve results.
“I’m fearful we’ll go through all the study and still only pay lip service to the problem,” he said. “Right now we’re only getting updates on what we know exists — a wide disparity.”
The council agreed to discuss the study formally at a later date.
In other news, the council will convene in a special session Thursday, March 13 to discuss Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s amended budget, which is expected to rectify a budget shortfall of roughly $12 million for this year.
In a unanimous vote, the council also approved the appointment of former CitiSmart Coordinator Bill Harkins as the new Executive Director of Public Works. Harkins replaces longtime director John Bell, who officially retires March 1. Harkins has been working alongside Bell since late January, but said he hasn’t been “specifically” involved with reworking the department’s budget and will spend his first year “helping the folks in public services do their job as best they can and be a liaison with the mayor and help with his initiatives.”
Finally, the council exchanged gifts with U.S. Navy Capt. Kay Hire, a Mobile native and astronaut who flew on two space shuttle missions, most recently STS-130 to the International Space Station in 2010. Hire presented the city with a Mardi Gras flag and crew patches that made the journey with her, while Council President Gina Gregory read a mayoral declaration proclaiming Feb. 25 “Kay Hire Day.” Hire was also given a key to city. Hire is a 1977 graduate of Murphy High School who later attended the U.S. Naval Academy and Florida Institute of Technology.
Next week’s Council meeting will be delayed 24 hours to accommodate the Mardi Gras holiday.