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Article: New Orleans to conduct DBE disparity study

(This article originally published in the August 29, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.)

By Charmaine Jackson Contributing Writer

“We have been asleep at the wheel, in our community, for twenty something years,” Ernest Stalbert of The Collaborative stated last Wednesday night at Southern University at New Orleans’ Conference Center, during a panel discussion on the forthcoming New Orleans disparity study.

Due to relentless efforts by The Collaborative, a group of small business owners whose purpose is to “address the extreme racial inequities surrounding the awarding of billions of dollars in public contracts earmarked for the rebuilding of New Orleans’ civic, educational, and health care infrastructures in the years following Hurricane Katrina,” per their website.

“The $76 billion—all that, we missed,” Stalbert stated, in reference to the funds given to New Orleans, post-Katrina. “Had we had a disparity study in place, we would have been able to have a set-aside for African Americans and other small businesses, a guarantee of a share of those contracts,” Stalbert stated.

The City of New Orleans will conduct a disparity study to determine the effects that discrimination has had and still has on contracting opportunities and economic activity in the city. A total of $500,000 was included in the city’s 2016 budget, exclusively for the study.

“The City of New Orleans put out a request for proposal and about seven companies responded,” Stalbert stated. “There was a committee that was selected by the city to evaluate those proposals and there was specific evaluation criteria set based upon the request for proposal, and the Keen Independent Research was selected because they scored high on all of the different categories of the evaluation,” Stalbert added.

According to Stalbert, the firm is a very strong organization and has conducted more than 150 studies. Their studies have been challenged; however, Stalbert said they have never been defeated. In addition to conducting the study, the firm is responsible for presenting a remedy to address the disparity. Stalbert said the goal is to get “narrowly tailored results” or specific results, to solve the disparities. Past cases in which this variable was missing, resulted in failure to effectively solve issues plaguing communities.

“While the study will be extremely valuable, the real challenge is what we as a community will do to hold folk accountable to making it happen, to create an environment of equity in terms of the economic system,” said State Representative Joseph Bouie. He recommended working with the administration to increase the chances of desired results.

To ensure there is a local network, Keen Independent Research will work closely with two local minority firms – one of which is the Spears Group.

The study will also include a community outreach component.

“The study includes not only the data collection, but it also includes the anecdotal data, the stories from the people in the community about their experiences in the marketplace,” commented Judith Dangerfield, CEO of Metrosource.

Private and public sectors will be evaluated to see if there is a compelling government interest to make sure that the disparity is identified, as well as which groups are most impacted by the disparity, and what legal remedies will be implemented.

As a lesson learned from the last disparity study, which was conducted more than twenty years ago, Dangerfield emphasized the importance of pursuing results after the study is completed. When the data expires, the data is no longer valid. When the last study expired, it was challenged in court, and the data was no longer usable. The city had to change their program from a race-conscious program to a race-neutral program, based on the settlement agreement from the disparity study.

While the city has a Disadvantage Business Enterprise program (DBE), contract opportunities for minority-owned businesses are scarce. Per the program, 35 percent of contracts from large companies should be contracted to DBE businesses, but this is not materializing. Stalbert stated of the 60 percent African-American population in the city, only two to three percent are getting contracts.

“This time is will be important that the process not just stop with the study, but that it’s protected regularly to make sure whatever legal remedy is put in place is perpetual throughout our lifetime and hopefully for the lifetime of our children,” Dangerfield stated.

Other panelists who presented include: Steven Kennedy of the Justice and Beyond Coalition; Attorney Omar K. Mason, of Aaron & Gianna, PLC, along with host Eugene Green, owner of Nationwide Real Estate Corporation and Chairman of the Board of Director of the Good Work Network.

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