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VOL. 130 | NO. 192 | Friday, October 2, 2015

Taser Contract Controversy Endures As Election Day Nears

By Bill Dries

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As the city of Memphis closed in on buying body cameras and other associated technology for its police department, the inner circle around Memphis Mayor A C Wharton was concerned.

Danielle Inez is one of eight businesswomen who rallied this week outside City Hall to back TASER International’s contract with Carter Malone Group. The women contend the lack of contracts for minority and women-owned businesses should be a bigger issue.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

They were concerned that Taser International, the camera supplier the city had picked, wasn’t getting close to the goal the city had set of at least 10 percent participation by minority- and women-owned business enterprises – MWBEs – in the total project spend.

So, according to city CAO Jack Sammons, he and others took note when Taser subcontracted with the The Carter Malone Group LLC this summer. That contract wasn’t questioned or mentioned to Wharton, even though his campaign manager, Deidre Malone, heads the public relations and marketing firm.

Taser decided independently to hire a marketing firm and mount a community engagement effort, according its executives and Wharton’s administration. In other cases, Taser has handled that work in-house.

The explanation by the administration  stretched over the last full week of the mayoral race before coming to a conclusion late Thursday, Oct. 1. Wharton announced that Taser and Malone had mutually agreed to cancel the contract.

Nevertheless, it’s been a week in which Wharton has faced questions about the contract’s appearance, if not its legality, and his lack of knowledge about it. City attorney Herman Morris said Tuesday, Sept. 29, there was nothing illegal about the subcontract between Taser and Carter Malone, to which city government was not a party.

“There are plenty of things in law that seem to the general public perception-wise to be one way but are absolutely legal,” Morris said. “Both she and the Taser firm had the right to reach out to each other, to contract with each other. The mayor had no involvement in that.”

The $880,000 contract would have been 20 percent – 10 percentage points higher than the MWBE goal – based on Taser having a $4.5 million contract with the city.

But the independent Minority Business Development Oversight Committee criticized the deal for falling short of the 10 percent goal in a September briefing for the Memphis City Council.

The MBDOC opinion said the spend was “minimal” based on a $23 million deal – $9 million for the body cameras and the storage technology under Taser and a subsidiary and another $14 million with Insight Public Sector for patrol car video.

The Carter Malone contract along with an additional $410,000 contract with another minority business totaled $1.3 million of the $23 million spend, 5.6 percent.

The contract to Carter Malone also revived a two-year-old push by black political and business leaders for a greater share of private business-to-business deals as well as government contracts for local minority businesses.

Seven businesswomen led by London Lamar, who owns a marketing firm, rallied outside City Hall Thursday to call attention to the low percentage.

“I think the focus is wrong,” Lamar said of the Taser contract controversy. “She was not out of line for applying.”

“I think having a relationship with the mayor or anybody in city government is instrumental in selling your brand and your personal business,” she added. “I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest that she has a relationship with the mayor.”

Beverly Robertson of TRUST Marketing said her company was invited to a meeting with Taser but couldn’t attend. She also said the contract was “done fairly.”

“We measure what we value and there is a lot that hasn’t been measured in Memphis relative to how we do business,” Robertson said. “We need to measure the number of contracts that are awarded versus those that are awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses.”

Lamar, Robertson and the other businesswomen said they favor a 38 percent MWBE goal, similar to the goal set in Atlanta.

It’s also a mark favored by mayoral challenger and Memphis City Council member Harold Collins. Wharton has specifically criticized it as unrealistic.

Collins and another council member and mayoral challenger Jim Strickland have each criticized the Taser contract with Carter Malone, questioning the need for and funding of a public engagement campaign.

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173