VOL. 131 | NO. 252 | Tuesday, December 20, 2016
County Commission Approves Specific Minority Contract Percentages
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners gave final approval Monday, Dec. 19, to a resolution that sets specific percentages for specific minority and other groups for getting a share of county government contracts.
The specific goals were approved without any changes after lots of debate among commissioners about a percentage of contracts specifically for white women that some commissioners argued should have been broadened to include all women.
“This is actually regressive for women,” Commissioner Heidi Shafer said at the outset of the commission debate. “This actually hurts women and I know it’s not meant that way.”
She said it wasn’t right for women in general to not be considered a victim of discrimination without being divided into ethnic groups.
The ordinance sets a specific percentage of subcontracts for black-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and white women-owned businesses, with further division of the percentages based on two types of subcontracts. A construction subcontract goal of 28 percent applies to black-owned businesses, while a professional services subcontract goal of 26 percent applies to both black-owned businesses and businesses owned by white women.
Other minorities are included in prime contract percentages in the ordinance.
Commissioner Walter Bailey was among those arguing that the commission needed to stick closely to specific findings in the disparity study commissioned by county government that is an essential element in the Supreme Court ruling that governs such programs and the setting of percentages.
Bailey said departing from the very specific findings of the disparity study could invite a successful legal challenge or the goals.
“We’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” Bailey said specifically of African-American businesses doing business with county government. “We are shut out of any economic prosperity and we are making a conscientious effort to address that.”
But Bailey was willing to admit there was room for more than the ordinance as long as the ordinance did not change.
“This is not a panacea,” he said. “But it gives us hope. … If there are any other problems that we see in terms of other ethnic groups or minority groups, they can always be subject to further study.”
The commission ultimately approved a companion resolution by commissioner Van Turner that allows the county Equal Opportunity Compliance officer to consider locally owned small businesses in general if enough businesses in specific categories can’t be found or those in groups outside of the designated groups in the ordinance petition for consideration.
The compromise allowed final passage of the ordinance without an amendment that would have required another vote. It also allowed the ordinance to garner 11 votes with commissioners David Reaves and George Chism voting no.
But another commission debate flared over which piece to vote on first. The hesitation reflected questions about trust on the different sides of the issue.
“To get this ordinance passed tonight without changing anything in it and perhaps getting 13 votes committed if we just put this resolution in place, I’m for that,” said commissioner Eddie Jones.
The key to compromise for Jones was an amendment to the resolution that Turner accepted giving the County Commission the final say on any move to broaden contract percentages on individual projects to include other groups.
For Shafer, the key was getting the resolution. “It doesn’t go as far as I would like, but just like in everything else it’s a compromise,” she said. “I think it’s a reasonable compromise.”
After the vote, Turner said the discussion touching on which groups had seen discrimination and which should take priority in which formal measure was a necessary if contentious discussion.
“Politics here is a contact sport and the sausage getting made is not pretty,” he said. “Tempers flare. We had to get this done. Things are stated to make points but it’s not personal. If we took everything personal that’s said up here, we’d be crazy and we’d be mad all the time.”
The commission approved final reading Monday of a similar ordinance giving priority to locally owned small businesses in county government contracts.
With the passage of the ordinances and the resolution Monday, the commission and county administration hope to put the program in place to enforce the percentages by the fiscal year that begins July 1.
With that in mind, the commission resurrected a contract with Allied Security for county government buildings it rejected earlier this month and approved it to run through June 30.
A majority of the commission rejected the contract earlier so that a new contract would fall under the minority business percentages set in the ordinance.
At the end of the current fiscal year, the security services contract will be rebid.
In other action at the last commission meeting of 2016, the commission approved on third and final reading the inter-local agreements that provide county ambulance service through the county fire department to the cities of Millington, Arlington and Lakeland.
The county fire department becomes the ambulance service provider fur unincorporated Shelby County in 2017 after the county ended its contract with AMR Inc. after AMR requested more funding to continue providing the service.
The administration of County Mayor Mark Luttrell said it could provide the service directly at a lower cost.
Commissioners also approved Tuesday the issuance and sale of $110 million in revenue bonds for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority to include financing capital improvement projects at the airport.
The commission also approved a $476,870 contract with Buchart Horn Inc. for the design of a widening of Walnut Grove Road from Rocky Point Road to Houston Levee Road from two lanes to four lanes with bicycle and pedestrian lanes. Most of the amount, $357,728, is federal funding that comes to the county through the state of Tennessee.
Also approved was a five-year lease with Hendrix and Sons Farms Partnership for 933 acres of crop land to be used for farming and as pastures from the Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission at a rate of $169 per acre.