HUB program under scrutiny by City Council

Tacoma’s Historically Underutilized Business program was the focus of Tuesday’s City Council study session.

Responding to a request from the city to explore ways to coordinate the program with other economic development initiatives, Deputy City Manager James Walton shared research results and fielded questions from City Council members.

HUB provides contracting opportunities and business-management assistance to qualified contractors. The program was formed in part to balance the impact of Initiative 200, which eliminated preferences in state and municipal hiring and recruitment to the state university system. The effect was to limit access to public contracts for many of those covered under the HUB program.

“This is just an interim step to let you know the results of the study,” Walton explained.

“The city has a compelling public interest in creating a positive business environment which encourages economic growth and diversification.”

According to statistics from the HUB Annual Program Status Report presented by Walton, there were a total of 41 contracts in Dec. 2001 for 13 percent HUB participation; 53 contracts in Dec. 2002 for 18.6 percent HUB participation; and 13 contracts through April 2003, representing nearly 23 percent HUB participation.

Certified HUB contractors continue to increase, with 43 in 2001, 63 in 2002 and 80 as of April 2003.

Walton said the goal is to have 100 HUB contractors. “We think we could achieve that by the end of the year,” he noted.

Despite the program’s growth, City Council members – though generally supportive of the program – voiced some qualms.

Councilman Kevin Phelps said he was concerned about the government getting into the private sector and causing unintended consequences, and specifically said he’d like to see lenders more involved in any expansion of the HUB program.

“I think we’re in a frail, delicate position,” said Councilman Doug Miller, adding he was supportive of HUB, but wanted more study of the risks involved of expanding the program.

Councilman Rick Talbert, also describing himself as a strong supporter of HUB, thought the program may be moving too fast, cautioning that the city should be careful to present HUB as “goal oriented and not a quota.”

Councilwoman Sharon McGavick suggested a pilot program to test expanding the HUB program. “I think we have to explain it,” she said. “People have to understand it.”

Mayor Bill Baarsma said Tacoma should look to other cities that may have implemented similar programs, noting Tacoma may be on the cutting edge of this issue. He was confident the city was on the right path, mentioning the city’s recent renaissance and the city government’s role in helping to make that happen. “Over time this has been a successful program,” Baarsma said.

Sidebar: A subdued City Council got back to the business of running the city during Tuesday’s study session, but it wasn’t business as usual, considering the tragic events that took place over the weekend.

Crystal Brame was shot in the head Saturday in Gig Harbor by her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, who then took his own life. The estranged wife of Chief Brame was upgraded from critical to serious condition Tuesday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Before the start of the study session, City Manager Ray Corpuz reported that acting Chief Catherine Woodard was working to stabilize the police department. He also announced that at the time of the study session Woodard was meeting with the editorial board of The News Tribune.

Corpuz said the Tacoma Police Department would be able to “continue its primary mission to make the community safe.”

In related news, Corpuz and Woodard said Tuesday that an outside agency will investigate the city’s handling of the situation, and according to divorce papers, Crystal Brame told a licensed psychologist, Maxwell Knauss of Tacoma, that as recently as March 14 her husband had threatened to kill her.

A fund has now been established in Tacoma for the Brame children. Donations are being accepted by mail and at all TAPCO Credit Union branches. If you are interested in making a donation, contact information is provided below:

TAPCO Credit Union
ATTN: Brame Children Fund
6312 19th St. W.
Tacoma, WA 98466