Topher Morrison says Tampa awards just 2 percent of city contracts to minorities. He's wrong.

The mayoral candidate didn't check his claim with the city, but says minority-owned businesses deserve a greater share.
Topher Morrison is a candidate for Tampa mayor.  [Times files (2019)]
Topher Morrison is a candidate for Tampa mayor. [Times files (2019)]
Published February 21
Updated February 21

TAMPA—Topher Morrison says his mayoral campaign is based on principles of social justice.

At recent forums, he's used a statistic to illustrate that principle: only 2 percent of city contracts are awarded to minorities. At a forum this morning, Morrison, 50, a branding consultant making his first run for political office, repeated his claim.

"Are you aware that the city of Tampa only grants about 2 percent of its municipal contracts to minority-owned businesses?" Morrison said at a forum organized by the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council, broadcast by Telemundo and streamed live on WFLA's Facebook page. "That's not right."

It's also incorrect, said city officials, who say the real number is 15 percent for minority-owned businesses and 20 percent if businesses owned by white woman are included. All city services aren't eligible. The contracts must be competitively bid and qualified minority-owned businesses don't provide every type of municipal service. Only 12 percent — or $122 million — of the city's $1 billion budget is eligible, they say.

Morrison, they said, is mistakenly dividing the total dollar amounts for minority contracts into the overall city budget.

"The city of Tampa has a number of ways we proactively assist and bolster WMBE businesses," Mayor Bob Buckhorn's spokeswoman Ashley Bauman wrote in an email. "Whether it's performance bond waivers, monthly workshops, or helping to promote joint ventures, our focus is to uplift these businesses in the community. This highlights the city's efforts to actively engage and ensure that these businesses are a part of the pool for contracts awarded."

In 2017, the city awarded $18.9 million, more than double the $9.1 million awarded in 2011, the year Buckhorn became mayor, she said.

"This highlights the city's efforts to actively engage and ensure that these businesses are a part of the pool for contracts awarded," Bauman wrote.

When asked to provide the source for his claim, Morrison said he had been told the statistic by black community leaders. He said he had not confirmed it with the city.

And he said, in the broader context, it didn't matter.

"If it's anything less than 25 percent for the blacks and 25 percent for the Hispanic community, it's still inappropriate," Morrison said.

According to city statistics, in 2017, African-American-owned businesses received just over $7 million or 6 percent, of city contracts; Latino-owned businesses received just under $11 million or 9 percent.

The topic is likely to be raised at tonight's NAACP-sponsored forum at Middleton High School, 4801 N. 22nd St. Doors open at 5 p. m. City Council candidates as well as mayoral candidates will attend.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago .

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