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Black business leaders demand changes to M/WBE policies

By Yasmine Regester / June 8, 2018

Black business leaders, civil rights advocates and members of the Black clergy addressed the Greensboro City Council during council’s Tuesday, June 5 meeting over concerns of economic racial disparities in City of Greensboro contracting and to call for economic justice.

About 15 people spoke to council about the City of Greensboro’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise program.

Civil rights museum co-founder Earl Jones, led the discussion as co-chair of a new organization called The Greensboro Business League. Jones said the purpose of the new coalition comprised of Black business owners is to eliminate race based discrimination in contracting, financing and procurement in the city.

“Black people in this city are sick and tired. We represent 42 percent of the city’s citizens and pay approximately 35 percent of the taxes. But we only get one percent [of city money] back into our communities for contracting and professional services,” said Jones.

The Greensboro Business League brought a list of demands which are as folloew:

  1. To implement the recommendations of Griffin & Strong, P.C., an Atlanta-based consulting firm which conducted a 2018 Disparity Study of the city.
  2. To appropriate $1.5 million in the budget to the M/WBE office. 3. To implement policies to make the M/WBE office independent from the city manager’s office, and have the M/WBE director report directly to the city council.

The most recent disparity study was presented to council on April 3 by representatives from the consulting firm, Griffin & Strong. The study reported that from 2012-2016, only 2.74 percent of construction contracts went to African American owned businesses, compared to 88.59 percent to non-MWBE businesses.

“Our community speaks for itself. You can drive through and see the disparity,” said Karrissa Stewart, owner of A&K Training Facility, a local commercial drivers license company. “But to see the devastation on paper, this is [a] violation of civil rights where you’re not treating everyone fairly.”

Greensboro resident and a former accountant, Charles Byrd said that not much has changed with the way the city works with minority business owners.

“We’ve had four disparity studies in this city, dating back to the eighties. There’s nothing new in this city’s dealings with Blacks and public spending in 40 years,” he said.

One of the recommendations from the disparity study report was that council establish a committee to investigate discrimination and create policy recommendations for the M/WBE program.
Sandra Wright, an M/WBE coordinating committee member said the committee has been waiting for months for action to be taken on the disparity study findings. The committee was convened under the direction of Assistant City Manager Barbara Harris.

“Everyday that we are waiting is another day that this city knowingly and willingly continues to award contracts to majority firms and overlooking the minority,” said Wright. “The committee overwhelming feels the delay is unnecessary.”

At the council’s April 3 meeting, Harris indicated that city staff would take the next 90 days to establish a Disparity Committee comprised of city staff, contractors and trade members, in order to bring back recommendations to council on changes to the current M/WBE program and policies.

At Tuesday’s meeting Harris said that the April 15 tornado put a delay on setting meeting dates for the Disparity Committee. Meetings with the committee are now scheduled to take place from June 12 to July 9. Harris said recommendations will be brought back to council in August.

District 1 Councilmember Sharon Hightower said she was frustrated that the committee hasn’t met to complete any work on the M/WBE program.

“It shouldn’t take this long. The recommendations are already there,” said Hightower. “People who are trying to get work can’t keep waiting on a task force to get all of this done. This is an economic development concern.”

Council is expected to get an update from Harris at its June 12 work session.

FY 2018-2019 Budget

Council also heard feedback from residents on the 2018-2019 FY budget. While residents asked council to consider allocating funds in the budget for things such as bike lanes and housing, raising the minimum wage was the main topic of choice.

The proposed budget includes a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour for city employees, but it does not apply to public safety employees such as firefighters.

Dave Coker, president of the Greensboro Firefighter Labor Union, said an average firefighter spends 2,760 hrs on the job versus 2,080 hours spent by a 40 hours a week employee. Firefighters put in 680 more hours a year on the job. , but are not compensated for it.

Greensboro resident, Sandra Isley urged council members to consider how hard it is to get out of poverty when people aren’t making a living wage.

“I keep hearing about y’all finding affordable housing for people, but $700 is not affordable housing. Majority of the people on the East side aren’t making enough to afford that,” said Isley.
No action was taken on the budget. Council is expected to debate the budget at the June 12 work session.

In other council news …

The council unanimously voted to hire Interim City Manager David Parrish as the new permanent City Manager. Parrish has served in the interim role since March 20 after former City Manager Jim Westmoreland announced his retirement.

Parrish started as an assistant city manager in November 2012, overseeing the city’s field operations, engineering and inspections, planning, Guilford Metro 911, water resources, transportation and fire departments.

“I am honored to move into the role of City Manager and appreciative of the support from City Council,” said Parrish.

As the city manager, Parrish will receive a salary of $194,260, along with a monthly executive allowance of $1,000.


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