Chattanoogans Fearful To Speak Out Against City’s Discriminatory Hiring Plan

Chattanooga, TN – A draft of a new Equity Plan was presented to the city council during the Strategic Planning Meeting on Tuesday, November 17th. 

Karen McReynolds from Office of Multicultural Affairs presented the plan to the Council with the goal of awarding more City business based upon the race or gender of the business owner. 

However, many local contractors feel that using race and gender as a determining factor for hiring is the very definition of racism and/or sexism. 

Most contractors are fearful to speak out or go on record due to the fear of being blacklisted. 

John Ballinger, an insurance agent specializing in serving local contractors, said, “I made calls today to see if any [contractors] would be interested in commenting on the city’s proposed diversity initiative. Out of five calls, all said ‘no’ because of the negative impact it could possibly have on their business due to existing culture.”  

The City’s new plan was formulated using data from a recent Disparity Study that showed 10.78% of Chattanooga city business awards were given to minority and women owned businesses. 

The study “found statistically significant under-utilization of Minority and Female owned firms as prime contractors in all five work categories that were analyzed.”   

These categories were divided into Construction, Architecture & Engineering, Professional Services, Other Services and Goods. 

During the Strategic Planning Meeting, District 4 Commissioner Darrin Ledford asked “What is the benchmark for us to consider that we are moving in the right direction?” 

McReynolds stated that the original goal was that 16 percent of city business should be done with Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWOBEs), but that the number should be higher to match the makeup of Chattanooga businesses. 

Nothing was mentioned in the presentation regarding finding the most qualified, efficient and cost-effective companies to do business with the City, regardless of gender or race. 

The Tennessee Conservative reached out to many contractors to solicit their opinions on this subject.  As with the calls Ballinger made, the contractors would only speak to us “off the record.” 

One contractor told us “Generally, contractors hire through the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE).  Often, the companies that pop-up are nothing more than shells to meet the City requirements.  They end up subbing out the work to more capable companies.” 

Contractors related to us that the DBE “Shell Game” costs the City more money due to the inflated prices levied through middlemen.  The extra taxpayer money spent gives no extra value to the City. 

Regarding the new Equity Plan, another contractor told us, “As I understand it, this has been in draft form for years so I don’t see it becoming a reality before March, especially since the current administration will only be in office for a few more months…and then I’d like to see how the new administration addresses it.” 

We also reached out to the City Council for their input. 

District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz replied, expressing that the City “uses ability regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion and/or sexual orientation” in their hiring practices. 

She said that she is aware of hiring practices through shell companies particularly in the private sector but stated “I have not seen it happen in the City.” 

Berz concluded with, “Ability to perform in a timely, quality fashion should be the deciding factor.  I believe that the City is on the right track to determine where imbalances may lie and then to work in helping all folks, through proper education and understanding of the process, to do business with the City cost-effectively and efficiently.” 

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