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Not too dead to work for Tampa

The city pushes to add names to a minority contractor list after a study shows white men dominate major city contracts.

By JANET ZINK
Published October 11, 2006


TAMPA — Paving contractor Lynwood Eady died more than 25 years ago.

William Humphrey closed his lawn care business in 2000.

Yet companies owned by the men are on a list of 419 potential vendors that Tampa officials are pushing to include in a consultant’s study of the city’s minority contracting practices.

Adding the names could make the city’s record of hiring minority- and female-owned businesses look better than the results of the study, which concluded that a disproportionate amount of major city contracts went to white male-owned businesses. It also could mute calls for new rules to help minority businesses.

City Council member Kevin White, who urged the city to do the 18-month study, said he wondered whether the administration was attempting to manipulate the results.

“If you control the input, you control the outcome,” he said.

As the pool of contractors available for city work grows, the percentage of minorities in the pool could drop. That would make the city’s contract practices look fairer, because the contracts going to minorities would more closely match their percentage in the pool.

The consultant that completed the study in May said it appears the city just didn’t like the findings.

In a letter to Mayor Pam Iorio on Oct. 4, Mason Tillman Associates president Eleanor Ramsey complained the city was trying to discredit the study’s data four months after the final report.

“This strongly suggests that (city) Contract Administration does not like either the outcome, the recommendations based on the Study findings, or both,” Ramsey wrote.

The St. Petersburg Times checked 155 of the companies the city said expressed interest in bidding and which were not included in the consultant’s study.

The sample included at least 15 that appear to be out of business, according to Florida corporate records. Some of those could have simply changed locations, or started anew under a different name.

But that’s not the case with Eady & Sons Paving, which is listed with a 20th Avenue address.

“He’s been dead since 1980,” Alice Eady said of her husband, Lynwood, who ran the business.

Her son, Nickie, ran the business for a while, but the company was dissolved in 1991, according to state records.

Nickie Eady has his own paving business now, but it’s in Seffner, according to state records.

David Vaughn, director of the city’s contracts administration department, said he couldn’t explain why closed corporations appear on the list of businesses that requested mailings about city contracts.

“Did we keep copies of their request for mailings? No. Are they on the list of folks who made requests for those mailings? Yes,” he said.

Mayor Pam Iorio was surprised to hear there might be problems with the city’s data.

“I can’t really respond to that,’’ she said Wednesday. “You’re telling me something I haven’t heard before.”

She noted that the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which joined with the city on the disparity study, also found irregularities in data used by the consultant.

At this point, city officials don’t know for sure if the business names Vaughn says are missing really were not included in the study or whether it would make a big difference in the outcome.

Many of the names on the list reviewed by the Times are identified as nonminority owned. Adding more white contractors to the available pool could change the results of the study by diluting the percentage of interested minorities.

It also could eliminate any legal basis for an ordinance to set goals for minority contracting in some areas. The city embarked on the study in 2004 to evaluate Tampa’s record on minority contracting and establish a legal basis for a potential ordinance.

Vaughn said he gave the missing names to the consultant at a kickoff meeting in December 2004, but they were omitted from the research.

Mason Tillman Associates contends it never got the list. The consultant recommended passing an ordinance to close the hiring gaps after presenting the results of the study in May, and the City Council voted to pursue that option. Iorio then appointed a task force to determine which of the consultant’s suggestions for improvement are feasible.

But several weeks ago, Vaughn pointed out that the company hadn’t included the names of 119 vendors. The number on what Mason Tillman calls the “mystery list” grew to 161, then 270.

The count now is 419.

In her letter to Iorio, Reynolds contends Mason Tillman worked closely with Vaughn’s department during the study, and city officials reviewed the list of vendors in June 2005. Mason Tillman officials did not return phone calls for comment.

Vaughn said that although other city officials reviewed the vendor list, he never did. It wasn’t until he saw the study results that it occurred to him something might be wrong.

In particular, Vaughn said, he was surprised to see that minority and female-owned businesses composed nearly 50 percent of the companies available for such construction-related work as architecture and engineering. In his experience, that seemed high, he said.

Some names on Vaughn’s list of omitted contractors are major companies, like J.O. DeLotto & Sons and Hardin Construction.

But the list also includes companies that have gone out of business or changed their names. Some have wrong phone numbers and addresses.

Humphrey Enterprises of Tampa is among those on the list.

Humphrey said he closed his business in 2000 and never inquired about city contracts during the study period of October 2001 through September 2004.

“It couldn’t have been me,” he said Wednesday. The list also does not identify Humphrey as a minority, which he said he is.

Mason Tillman said it will cost $70,000 to review the additional data. The original study cost $110,000.

The California-based company’s clients have included the Pacific Bell, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and the cities of San Francisco, Dallas and Seattle.

“We all have to work together to make sure the study is as complete and accurate as possible because it is the study that we’re basing the ordinance on,” Iorio said.

Ordinances that set goals for minority contracting and mandate race-based business development programs must be based on detailed studies to withstand legal challenges, said City Attorney David Smith.

“If we’re going to implement a program, and we’re going to be pretty strong about this program, we better be right,” he said. “You can’t just do something to do something.”

The study results show that minority- and women-owned businesses are adequately  represented in construction and construction-related subcontracts.

But Mason Tillman found statistically significant differences between potential local candidates for major contracts and the work they received.

For example, minority- and women-owned businesses make up 49 percent of those that could handle professional services contracts worth $25,000 to $500,000, but received only 7 percent of the available city dollars. They make up 46 percent of the pool for construction projects worth less than $25,000; they received 14 percent.

White males own 51 percent of the businesses that could handle contracts worth $25,000 to $500,000 but receive 93 percent of the work.

Black-owned businesses fare particularly poorly, according to the study. In one category, black-owned businesses make up 12 percent of the available market but receive less than 1 percent of the work.

[Last modified October 11, 2006, 22:57:42]


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