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.