Half of the Greensboro City Council work session on Thursday, April 13 was devoted to the council’s most discussed topic – the Minority and Business Enterprise (MWBE) program.

The council received an update via Zoom on the disparity study for the MWBE program currently being conducted by Griffin & Strong PC.

The MWBE program may not actually be the council’s favorite, but it is the topic that the council discusses far more than any other, including public safety, the housing shortage and programs for the homeless population.

Despite the amount of time and energy the council puts into the MWBE program, from the questions asked it was evident that some councilmembers are unclear on why the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on disparity studies.

The main purpose of a disparity study is to provide a legal basis for the entire MWBE program, which favors minorities and women.  Disparity studies are an outgrowth of the 1989 Supreme Court case City of Richmond v. Croson.  At the time, Richmond was requiring that construction contractors set aside 30 percent of their subcontractor dollars for minority owned firms.  The Supreme Court ruled that this set aside violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, because it favored firms based on race without specifying the underlying discrimination that it was attempting to remedy.

While set asides such as were being used by Richmond were ruled unconstitutional, the Supreme Court decision did open the door for MWBE programs that established goals for MWBE participation if the jurisdiction could establish a “compelling interest” to support the program.

A disparity study verifies that there is a disparity between the contracts awarded to firms owned by white males and those owned by minorities and women.

The main purpose of the disparity study being done by Greensboro is therefore to establish in a legally defensible manner that this disparity in awarding contracts does exist and therefore Greensboro has a compelling interest to have an MWBE program to attempt to remedy this disparity.

A secondary goal of the disparity study is to determine how well Greensboro’s current MWBE program is working and to make recommendations on improving the program.

According to the update, the disparity study is on schedule for completion in the fall and there isn’t much to report at this time because while the data has been collected it has not been analyzed.