Lack of minority participation halts city paving contract

A $2 million paving contract hit the skids Tuesday night when council members in Greensboro scoffed at its low target for minority and women subcontractors.

City policy calls for a target of 10 percent for minority and women business enterprise. A $2.2 million contract for Blythe Construction to pave 59,000 feet of roadways in Greensboro was set to be approved by city council on April 1, but Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson set the tone of the debate the moment Mayor Nancy Vaughan called for the item’s consideration.

“There is a very low percentage of minority contractors and women,” Johnson said. “I just want to know what the explanation for three percent is. And who made an agreement with that as the goal.”

A staff member explained that the three-percent goal was set for this project because there was very little room for subcontracting due to the nature of the work.

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower asked for a breakdown of the subcontracting work and staff explained that two area firms – Rankin Grading and Atlantic Contracting – would participate with Blythe.

Hightower urged staff to work harder to get information about potential MWBE firms to city-approved contracts.

“We have information here, we have … a MWBE program,” Hightower said. “We can say we expect it to get better, but if we don’t present them with the information they won’t do better. I would rather see better.”

Greensboro accountant Charles Byrd spoke from the floor and heavily criticized Blythe for its lack of outreach to MWBE firms.

“Blythe is a 90-year-old firm that operates in 17 countries and yet they haven’t figured out how to meet a minority business quota,” Byrd said. “That’s what’s part of the problem. They are not required in 90 years to figure out how to meet the quota because we haven’t set the requirements and enforced them. We haven’t developed a vehicle in order to build capacity so that if it’s missing it can be done. That’s the problem, that they are allowed to come into our community … and not get more than three percent participation.”

Area contractor Ed McKeever amplified Byrd’s comments in calling for the contract to be reexamined. He said that data prior to 2009 showed a lack of using MWBE firms by city approved contractors. He criticized the city’s development of the Blythe contract and said it should have been developed by the city’s MWBE office and not just engineering staff.

Councilwoman Johnson made a motion to table the contract and Mayor Vaughan asked staff to bring it back with a higher MWBE goal.

“With all due respect, I don’t know who set three percent,” Johnson said. “I don’t understand why three percent was set. I’ve heard reasons but I don’t buy it.”