Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston is proposing that Guilford County pay $300,000 to $400,000 for a disparity study that he argues would help the county deal with its persistent problems of a lack of participation by minority-owned firms in Guilford County construction projects.
Alston said this week that, if the county invests in the study, it would reap benefits for a long time to come in terms of the county’s ability to fairly dispense construction contracts as well as other county contracts. He said such a study would finally address the long-standing problem in a direct and effective way.
In early 2019, there’s been a lot of turmoil on the Board of Commissioners over the fact that the county awarded a $12-million construction contract that included virtually no minority participation.
The study that Alston is proposing would, in part, involve a complete inventory of all available minority-owned firms that Guilford County could rely on to serve the county’s needs for its projects.
According to Alston, if the county invests in a disparity study that reviews past hiring practices and the current availability of minority firms, it would allow Guilford County more legal leeway in setting quotas for contracts. The proposed study would also explore other ways for Guilford County to increase minority participation.
“The disparity study would tell us the capacity of African-American firms to do the work,” Alston said. “What firms are there that can lay the brick? What firms are there that can do the plumbing or electrical work? We would look at how many minority firms there are out there that could do the work.”
He said that, once a comprehensive study is conducted, it would give the county the ability to set quotas for minority participation in its bid proposals. According to Alston, the county would still have to go with the lowest responsible bidder – but it would be able to require in the bid proposal that a certain percentage of the work go to minority firms.
“You’d have some legal leverage,” he said.
A $500,000 disparity study in Virginia Beach led to some changes in the way contracts were drawn up and bid out by that city.
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said this week that, as of yet, he hasn’t heard enough about the proposal to comment on any legal aspects of it.
According to Alston, the estimate of $300,000 is based on what similar studies have cost elsewhere, but he said Guilford County may be able to get out for a little less than that.
Alston added that, if there really are virtually no black-owned businesses that can contribute to these major county construction projects, then the study will reveal that too.
“But I know that’s not the case,” he said.
Alston said he knows he’s facing an uphill battle since the Guilford County Board of Commissioners right now is dominated by five white Republicans who, he said, have certainly not made minority hiring a priority to say the least.
The board is currently trying to find money to conduct several major construction projects slated for 2019 and 2020.
When Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson was asked if he would support paying $300,000 or more for a disparity study, the chairman first chuckled and then indicated that the chances of him voting for that study were right at zero.
Why can’t the county use the one that was just paid for by the City of Greensboro?
Another approach to Mr. Alston’s concerns is to send out a Request for Qualifications of minority firms that are interested in providing services to Guilford County. A questionnaire could be developed by the county staff that discusses, ownership, size, qualifications of the staff, prior project experience, areas of service, current insurance coverage etc. This approach has been used by the state and federal governments as a means to ferret out business interests versus qualifications. The cost would be minimal to the county. Plus, it is a fair means of acquiring the information and data. If a company is interested, they invest the time and effort to provide the information. Why should taxpayers spend $300,000 to have a consultant go out into the community and “hunt” for company names. That is not sufficient. Put the responsibility on the minority businesses just like any other business group.
I bet some of it goes into his pocket, just a cover for basically nothing to help anyone.
Stop obsessing about race Mr. Alston! Here is a hint: every time Commissioner Alston starts kicking up a fuss about his obsession, he chases away another firm that does not want to deal with his crap, and who knows how many minority workers lose the opportunity for work as a result?