VOL. 133 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 10, 2018
County Commission Wants to Firm Up Minority Contract Rules
By Bill Dries
Shelby County commissioners approved a $1.6 million contract Monday, Jan. 8, for mobile data terminals, tablets and wireless routers for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
The contract with Tate Computer Systems Inc. is an entry into a system of body cameras for sheriff’s deputies. Capital funding for the hardware came from a line item for a delayed health clinic that will be built in the next fiscal year, according to county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy.
Tate is a minority and locally-owned business.
Commissioners and other county leaders are scheduled to meet Wednesday in a working group aimed at making fixes to the year-old county resolution setting percentage goals for county government contracts with such businesses.
Commissioner Van Turner, who is leading the effort, said last week the plan is to have a set of recommended changes hashed out at the Wednesday session and then discuss then more fully on Jan 17. By that timetable there could be a vote of the full commission at its Jan. 22 meeting on whatever the committee recommends.
The changes would involve hiring attorney Ricky E. Wilkins for up to $50,000 to advise the commission on whether the changes comply with a recent disparity study. The study establishes disparities in awarding county contracts to specific minority groups and locally owned businesses. If the commission departs from those findings, it makes the percentages and goals more susceptible to a legal challenge.
Commissioners differ on the cause of problems with interpreting and executing those rules.
Commissioner Steve Basar believes the administration and the county’s Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance aren’t communicating as well as they should.
“The issue isn’t so much we need to redo it as we need to improve the teamwork and the process,” he said. “That’s really where I am coming from.”
Turner and Kennedy, however, have said the rules need to be more specific and give better guidance on what takes priority in awarding a given contract – the percentage goal for minority businesses or the percentage goal for locally-owned businesses when a business is not in both categories.
“There’s a piece of truth to that,” Basar conceded. “The ordinance says our goal is 20 percent. If you interpret that as saying our goal is 20 percent on every single project, and come hell or high water we need to get that on every project, in my mind that’s not what it really says.”
He interprets the rules as 20 percent on average or better.
“Purchasing gives somebody a waiver and says you don’t need to meet your 20 percent because you’ve made a good faith effort,” Basar said of what can happen next. “And the EOC office comes right behind them and says, ‘Prove to me, show me how you can come up with the waiver.’ You can imagine that that sets off an adversarial relationship. … You are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.”
The commission delayed its meeting an hour Monday so commissioners could attend the funeral of attorney and former Memphis City Council member Lewis Donelson at Idlewild Presbyterian Church.