On Thursday, March 2, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to end a contract with Samet on a $23.9 million project that included demolishing the old Guilford County jail in downtown Greensboro and building a new Sheriff’s Department headquarters and parking lot.
Until now, no one has given a reason for the ongoing dispute.
However, on Friday, March 3, Samet Corp. sent out a detailed explanation of that company’s account of what happened. The decision by the Board of Commissioners to kill the giant contract came down to a disagreement over the process used to engage the participation of Minority and Women owned business enterprises (MWBE) in the project.
The March 3 statement from Samet said the company’s leaders are “deeply disappointed” that Guilford County government “unreasonably” terminated the contract.
The statement begins: “Samet has a long-standing and deep commitment to Guilford County and to equity, inclusion, and diversity on its construction work for the County. On the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office Building project, Samet achieved over 40 percent minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) participation of the total trade cost, which exceeds the 10 percent state baseline for MWBE. Of that, 15.9 percent was Black-owned enterprise participation, which exceeded participation by any other minority group.”
Samet adds, “The County acted improperly by instructing, after the subcontractor-bid process was completed in compliance with all laws and County policies, that Samet identify and hire additional Black-owned subcontractors outside of the bid process.”
A Samet employee who objected to the demand made a remark that by all accounts was harsh and indefensible, and Samet ended up firing the employee.
“After an internal investigation by outside counsel, Samet terminated the employment of a project employee who demonstrated their frustration with the request and openly questioned the validity of the County’s directive,” Samet wrote in its statement. “The tenor of the employee’s remarks were inconsistent with Samet’s values and commitments.”
Samet went on to describe the company’s values and successes with regard to diversity and inclusion on projects and notes that the company has been widely recognized by county leaders and business publications as a fair and equitable employer.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said he’s not currently able to present Guilford County’s side of the issue – but he stated strongly that the fault did not lie with the county.
“There are two sides to every story, but I am not at liberty to say what we discussed in executive session,” Alston said of the board’s Thursday, March 2 two-hour meeting the Board of Commissioners held behind closed doors that immediately preceded the board’s vote to terminate the contract that had made Samet the Construction Manager At Risk for the entire project.
Now the county will rebid Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the work.. Phase 1 is already substantially complete.
“I can assure you there will be a response from our attorney,” Alston added.
“The fact that our vote was unanimous should tell you something,” Alston said, noting that Republicans and Democrats alike on the board were in complete agreement on the decision to pull out of the contract with Samet.
Republican Commissioner James Upchurch was attending the meeting remotely however a telephone glitch prevented him from voting. Alston said that Upchurch was in agreement with the rest of the board.
The statement from Samet called the termination of the contract “counterproductive to the County’s stated goals” and said the decision affects dozens of subcontractors and that a total of $8.7 million of MWBE subcontracts were being affected.
Samet also stated that the delay will increase the county’s cost on the project.
“Furthermore,” it states, “every trade-package bid is now public record, making it extremely difficult for those subcontractors that were determined the lowest responsible bidder for their respective bid package to rebid and win under a new general contractor or construction manager.”