The Winston-Salem City Council is hoping to up the city’s game in awarding contracts to minority- and women-owned companies by funding a disparity study to see how well the city has been doing under current policies to promote the businesses.
By a 7-1 vote, the city council on Monday awarded a contract to MGT of America Consulting LLC at a cost of $333,570 to carry out the disparity study over six months.
The study will include examining the city’s contracting during a five year period, from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2018. The study will look at contracts awarded for goods and services, professional services and construction during the period.
In addition to looking at how effective the city programs have been, the consultant will recommend to the city any changes that the group thinks the city should put in place to make the city’s program for minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBE) more effective.
Council Member D.D. Adams said she’s been pushing for a disparity study for years, during periods when the city was spending millions to promote development in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter or at Whitaker Park.
“We have been discussing a study since 2011 and 2012,” Adams said. “Nobody wanted to do it because they didn’t feel like it was necessary. What really gets to me is that when anything outside of white projects come to the council, we beat them down. I fought for this almost 10 years. I stand by it.”
Under the city’s M/WBE program, companies bidding on projects have goals for M/WBE subcontracting that they must either meet or show a good-faith effort in meeting.
For the 2017-18 fiscal year, city officials reported recently, city spending with minority companies is totaling almost $13 million, or about 5.5 percent of the $236 million the city is spending with outside companies. Another $13 million was spent with companies owned by women. Together, the two categories make up about 11 percent of the spending by the city.
In recent years, the numbers for M/WBE have been going up. The M/WBE spending for 2017-18 was $5.6 million more than the amount spent in 2016-17.
On Monday, Council Member Vivian Burke said that every time she drives along Patterson Avenue and sees unemployed people on the street, she thinks about the need for the city to make a greater effort for minorities.
“We continue to not do what we ought to do when it comes to minorities,” Burke said. “The city needs to set a shining example.”
Council Member Robert Clark, who cast the only vote against doing the study, said he felt that the study wouldn’t really reveal anything that wasn’t found in other studies done in North Carolina cities.
“We are spending $300,000 on something that we have already got,” Clark said, adding that the money being used for the study could have gone to build affordable housing. “We are just like Asheville and Greensboro” and other cities, he said.
Council Member Dan Besse brought out that with a study, the city could defend itself if its M/WBE program were ever challenged in court.
Council Member John Larson said the city should have nothing to fear by doing the study.
“I sort of view this as a health check,” Larson said. “I’m not afraid or nervous about what we may find. It is an opportunity to bring in fresh eyes.”
In other action, the city approved an additional loan of $150,000 to a company already getting a $400,000 city loan to help finance the renovation of 108 units of housing at Southgate Apartments off U.S. 52 and Business 40. The extra money is needed because Beacon Management, the owner, is being required by regulators to upgrade the heating and air conditioning systems at the complex, which serves low-income renters.
The city loans are only part of a $13.4 million financing package for the renovation that also includes federal tax credits.