Sparks fly over contract for Disparity Study

This article was originally published here.

During their meeting on Monday, Feb. 18 the Winston-Salem City Council adopted a resolution awarding a contract to MGT of America Consulting, LLC to conduct a disparity study looking at the effectiveness of the city’s current M/WBE (Minority Women Business Enterprise) Program.

In the 1980s the City of Winston-Salem adopted a policy to provide minorities and women equal opportunity to participate in city contracting and other programs. In addition to assisting minorities and women-owned businesses that provided services for the city, the program also hosts workshops and seminars to show business owners the best way to win contracts.

With a focus on economic vitality and diversity, the objective of the disparity study is to determine the effectiveness of the current M/WBE Program and recommend remedies to address any barriers that adversely affect the contract participation of M/WBE firms, should any exist.

Tiesha Hinton, assistant director of Business Inclusion & Advancement, said the intent of the study is to evaluate contracting over a five-year period in construction, professional services, and goods and services, and determine the effectiveness of the program. She said, “In addition to doing that, they will also recommend modifications if necessary, adjustments if necessary particular to who we spend money with and who comes to the city to do business with us.”

According to documents available on the city of Winston-Salem website, the disparity study will cover the time period of July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2018. The study is expected to cost the city $333,570.

Councilmember Robert Clark raised questions about the need for the study. He mentioned other large metropolitan cities in North Carolina like Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte have conducted similar studies and the results are all the same.

“We’re going to spend $333,000 for something we already have. We have Greensboro’s study, Durham’s, Asheville’s, Charlotte’s and in my experience reading them, they all read the same,” continued Clark. “…For $333,000 we can probably build and sell 15 to 20 single family homes in the east side of town and that’s the trade off.

“I just have a hard time spending this much money for something and we know how it’s going to read because we’re just like Greensboro, and we’re just like Durham. Asheville may be a little different but they all read the same. And we’re going to get the same document and spend $330,000 instead of building homes.”

Clark went on to discuss the council’s decision to spend $150,000 on a housing study that he said was worthless. He said, “We spent $150,000 on a student housing study; didn’t build a single house. We lost an $800,000 grant and now we’re going to spend $333,000. That’s almost $1.5 million down the drain out of our city funds.”

Mayor Tempore Vivian Burke said she agrees with Councilman Clark that when the city spends large sums of money, it should be something worth the tax dollars. She said although she would support the study, she wants to see something come from it.

“I’m glad that we’re looking at this disparity study that the councilwoman (Adams) pushed for, but put something out there that shows us how we can evaluate if it’s worth our money or not,” Burke said.

Councilmember Denise “DD” Adams, who brought the idea of a disparity study to the council in 2012, said at that time it would have cost about half as much. Adams said, at that time the council didn’t feel it was necessary; but there has to be a system of checks and balances in place to ensure the program is operating the way it should. Adams went on to say that the council at times has shown favoritism to “white projects” that are brought before the board.

“…There always has to be a process of checks and balances for anything that is systemic.  That’s just the way it is. I respect the opinions of my council members but what really gets to me about this council, at times, is that when anything outside of white projects come to this council, we always seem to want to beat them down. We always have a reason of why it can’t be done,” she continued. “When we bring Whitaker Park and we bring Innovation Quarter and all this other stuff I don’t hear anybody saying anything about that.

“…I fought for this for almost 10 years and I stand by it.”

Adams went on to say when speaking with city councilmembers of a city that has already completed the disparity study, they say it’s one of the best things they could’ve done, because they were able to find issues within their programs. She also noted that the city didn’t make changes to the way it contracts minority and women-owned businesses until 2015.

“…As we go forward, if we want to be inclusive, we have to make sure that the economic disparity that is in this city goes away and we have to put some processes in place to try to level the playing field.”

When it came time to vote, the motion passed 6 to 1. Councilmember Clark was the only member to vote against the study.

Keep reading about at Contracting News.