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Cincinnati MWBE program in legal limbo
Published on 02/14/2018

The City of Cincinnati's minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) program has come into conflict with a "responsible bidder" and local-hiring ordinance which was passed in 2013.

A federal appeals court recently ruled that the responsible bidder ordinance could go into effect for contracts issued by the Greater Cincinnati Water Works. The Cincinnati Mayor and City Manager are asking the City Council to pause the rules that the federal appeals court has opened up, given that the responsible bidder ordinance require bidders on contracts larger than $400,000 to have apprenticeship programs with at least one graduate in each of the last five years.

According to a memo from the City Managers office, between July 1, 2016, through January 11, 2018, contracts worth a total $21.6 million would have been covered by the responsible bidder ordinance, had it not been blocked until the recent federal court action. During that time, the city of Cincinnati awarded $5.7 million of those contract dollars to MWBEs. However, if the responsible bidder ordinance had applied during the stated time period, $5.3 million worth of those contracts would not have been awarded to those MWBEs, because the MWBEs in question who received the contracts at that time do not meet the apprenticeship requirements or other associated requirements.

The memo also cautioned that the local-hire portion of the ordinance could result in MWBEs - which tend to be smaller than other businesses - simply deciding not to bid with Greater Cincinnati Water Works due to associated bureaucratic and staffing difficulties in complying with the regulations.

In the memo, the city manager asked that the ordinance be paused until September 12, in order to evaluate how best to meet the goals and respect the spirit of the responsible bidder ordinance without damaging the ability of MWBEs to compete for city contracts.

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