Greensboro City Councilmember Sharon Hightower had a wish granted last week on Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) goals.

Hightower thanked City Attorney Chuck Watts for doing the research and finding the answer to a legal issue that Hightower has been commenting about for years.

It helped that the answer to the legal question happened to be the answer that Hightower wanted to hear.

Hightower has complained about many contracts for highway projects that are paid for with 80 percent federal and state money and 20 percent city funds. Because the contracts are paid largely with federal funds through the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Hightower has been told by several city attorneys that the federal and state MWBE programs took precedence over the stricter City of Greensboro MWBE program.

At the July 21 meeting, the issue came up again with Councilmember Michelle Kennedy also asking that Watts look into the legal requirements and see if the city could not at least use its own MWBE program for the 20 percent match.

What Watts reported to the City Council in an email on Wednesday, July 29 was that his assumption that the federal and state MWBE requirements took precedence was wrong. Watts in the email states, “Bottomline, we can, going forward utilize the City of Greensboro’s MWBE plan with respect to 100% of transportation projects, professional services and construction or whatever else was covered by the [Disparity] study. The state and federal guidelines end up being a floor for municipalities that may not have applicable disparity studies.”

The fact that Watts before accepting the position as Greensboro city attorney had served as the general counsel for NCDOT may have helped him cut through some of the red tape in getting an answer.

Not only did he check out the answer with the chief deputy counsel at NCDOT and the NCDOT’s director of the office of civil rights, Watts also ran the question past Griffin and Strong that did the city’s disparity study and is currently working on a disparity study for the NCDOT.

In the end, all of those legal minds agreed with Hightower that Greensboro could use its own MWBE office to set goals for transportation projects in Greensboro.