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Staff photo by Tim Barber City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem

The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday will decide if it wants to move ahead on a study of whether Chattanooga offers a fair playing field when doing business with "minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises."

Councilman Yusuf Hakeem recently presented a resolution that, if approved, calls for the city's purchasing department to issue a request for proposals for a disparity study "to assess, quantify, and evaluate the prevalence, magnitude and extent of marketplace discrimination" against such businesses.

"This does not say we are going to fund a disparity study, because we don't know what the cost is right now," said Hakeem, who has for months championed the idea of such a study.

The council needs to have "all the pertinent information" before "we say no to something like this," he said.

Hakeem also asked his colleagues to consider that Chattanooga has partnered with foundations and others to support bicycle usage, M.L. King Boulevard renovations and other improvements.

In early May, Atlanta disparity consultant Rodney K. Strong met with the council to explain what a disparity study should do.

It would look at how the numbers of minority- and female-owned firms competing within a particular business segment — such as construction, general services or professional services — stack up, Strong said. If the percentage of those companies participating in government contracts is less than what is expected based on availability, a disparity exists.

The study process includes in-depth interviews with government procurement personnel to learn if minorities encounter restrictive barriers when they attempt to secure vendor agreements.

Statistical data and anecdotal evidence also play a role in the research, Strong said.

Remedies such as outreach programs, financial aid or technical assistance vary according to findings.

A government may have to take "race-conscious action" to address inequalities and end discriminatory practices, Strong said. Doing so is an affirmative duty of government and necessary for economic growth, he said.

Failing to resolve such issues can undermine the government's efforts to deal effectively with crime and violence within the community, Strong said.

Hakeem has repeated called for the council to put "skin in the game" and base government policy around such a study.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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