Bridgeport is pursuing a study on the racial equity of government and services. But is it too wide?

BRIDGEPORT — Do the city’s police treat all citizens the same? Do majority black and Hispanic neighborhoods receive fair treatment from other major departments like public amenities and health? Is the payroll of local authorities sufficiently diversified? Are minority businesses struggling to obtain municipal contracts?

Bridgeport is advertising a consultant to tackle these important issues and suggest solutions through a “racial equity” study that, according to the online application document, “will enable the city to establish itself as a national standard for racial justice and equality.

“We need to start looking at our city through a lens of racial equity…to make sure we serve every constituent in the best possible way,” said City Council Speaker Aidee Nieves, who has spent the past few years to lobby behind the scenes of the project.

But there are concerns that the consultant’s scope of work is unrealistic and ambitious for anything meaningful to emerge.

Exterior, Bridgeport City Hall in Bridgeport, Connecticut on March 1, 2018.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

“It’s way too broad,” said Reverend D. Stanley Lord, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it right.”

The price – and whether it is affordable – will be answered by all interested consultants who have until May 6 to respond.

“Getting the proposal over there to bid on it was my problem, first,” said Nieves, who did not offer an estimated cost.

She originally planned to focus solely on the police “because it is the largest outward-looking service – that is, community-oriented and in contact with residents across the city. “.

Nieves was motivated, in part, by the racial equity sessions she attended during a National League of Cities conference and what she described as a negative interaction between her family and local law enforcement. “We were victims in our house of a crime and we were treated as if we were the criminals,” she said. “I’m Puerto Rican and from the East Side. But if I live in the North End or the Black Rock area, would you talk to me that way? »

Nieves said his idea gained momentum within Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration in 2020 following national outcry over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May and subsequent protests in Bridgeport. – including an encampment outside police headquarters — on a series of excessive force cases and other scandals.

But it was decided to extend the racial equity study to the entire Bridgeport government. For example, Nieves said she receives complaints from constituents who feel that City Hall isn’t clearing streets on the East Side as well as roads in other neighborhoods, or clearing them as quickly or cleanly. during the winter, or did not act quickly enough to remedy potholes and other quality problems. life problems.

Permits will also be covered, Nieves said, because minority-owned small businesses may not be able to pay local zoning lawyers and other experts who help navigate this system. And the consultant will also be tasked with determining whether Bridgeport’s workforce is diverse enough – a question that has come up from time to time over the years, not just about rank-and-file police and firefighters, but also of all department heads and principal assistants to the mayor. .

She acknowledged that the end result would be “a very ‘big’ thing” in order to control costs. “At first, I wanted to do it department by department. That’s when we started talking about big money,” she said.

Lord said the broad approach was totally wrong: “Focus on police reforms. … The second thing is contracting with a minority. Minorities don’t get contracts from this city.

Gemeem Davis, a leader of the Bridgeport civic group Generation Now, recalled speaking to Nieves about racial equity issues last year and “she was really adamant that our city was behind.

“I think the goal is for city government to get the inequities in city government under control,” Davis said.

Along with being concerned about the police department, Davis also pointed out that Superintendent of Schools Michael Testani would as interim director on obtaining a three-year contract in 2020 after the school board abandoned plans for nationwide research. She said that as a result, qualified minority candidates never had a chance to compete.

Davis said that regardless of the study’s findings on racial equity, the key is “when we get the evidence through the study, we adopt a policy to make sure people are treated equally. It’s work.

Lord has doubts about what will happen. He noted how Ganim in 2019 spent $25,000 on consultant Charles Ramsey, a retired Philadelphia police commissioner, to recommend ways to improve Bridgeport’s strength. When Ramsey finally reviewed his findings with the council last June, they were told they had to re-hire him to provide problem-solving recommendations he identified.

In January, Acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia, who assumed the role last September, told the council there had been little or nothing done with Ramsey’s work.

“He gave this elemental report that gave us what?” Lord said this week. “And we spent thousands on it. And it was just a department.

Ashley C. Reynolds