Recently, Guilford County awarded a major $12-million construction contract to a company that plans on using virtually no black-owned firms for the work, and now a commissioner, Carolyn Coleman, is saying that’s completely unacceptable and the county’s practices must change going forward.

“This is a shame and a disgrace,” Coleman said of the board’s recent decision to approve a construction contract with New Atlantic Contracting Inc. out of Winston-Salem to build a long-awaited Emergency Services vehicle maintenance facility.

That vote came down along straight party lines – and almost along straight racial lines.  The board’s three black Democratic commissioners voted against awarding the contract, as did Commissioner Kay Cashion, a white Democrat.

At the Guilford County Board of Commissioners annual retreat on Monday, Feb. 25, the board’s five white Republican commissioners voted to award the contract – even though New Atlantic was using less than 1 percent black-owned businesses.

Coleman said the disgrace isn’t just from that one instance, but is instead because this is almost always the case in Guilford County when it comes to construction contracts.

“I’ve been working on this for years,” she said. “I fought with the former director of facilities for three years because he couldn’t find a black architect.”

That former facilities director resigned suddenly in 2018 and some say it was Coleman’s constant public lambasting that helped him make that decision to leave.

Coleman said this week that Guilford County has been around for well over 100 years and, in all that time, hardly any contracts of any size have gone to firms using a reasonable amount of minority participation.

She said the last major construction project that had a significant amount of minority participation was Guilford County’s new jail in downtown Greensboro.  That contract was awarded nearly a decade ago.

Now, Guilford County has several major construction jobs slated for 2019 and 2020, and Coleman said the county can’t let what happened two weeks ago happen on those projects as well.

She said there are clear strategies Guilford County can employ to up its use of minority-owned firms.  For instance, she said, the county can, as it did with the new jail project a decade ago, use a “Construction Manager at Risk” method – which gives the county more flexibility in requiring minority participation than a straightforward bid process does.

Coleman said Guilford County also needs to conduct more workshops in the community to make more minority contractors aware of county projects as well as help those firms with the application process.

According to Coleman, the fact that Guilford County recently created and filled a director position to increase the county’s use of minority- and women-owned businesses can help in that effort going forward.