2009 contract disparity study takes focus in Augusta Commission workshop

A $586,000 study of race and gender disparities in Augusta's awarding of government contracts, which has been sitting on a shelf for almost four years, took center stage at an Augusta Com­mis­sion workshop Monday.

The study was intended to replace 1994 data in use until 2008 despite being obsolete since the 1996 consolidation of Augusta and Richmond Coun­ty, said Yvonne Gentry, the coordinator of Au­gus­ta’s Dis­ad­van­taged Business En­ter­­prise program.

Since then, “budget constraints” have prevented the city from accomplishing most of the study's recommendations, especially those Gentry said would require hiring additional staffers or installing new computer software.

Also, government contractors, including Heery International, the city's project manager for construction projects for a decade, often refuse to provide data on involvement by women and minorities, she said.

Commissioner Marion Wil­liams, who served when the commission authorized the 2009 study, asked who dropped the ball in taking further action based on the data, which showed a pattern of inequality in the awarding of contracts to minority and female vendors.

Les Morton, one of a handful of minority contractors present, asked what the city would do next.

The study was largely exempted from public discussion since a 2007 lawsuit by several nonminority businesses led to a federal court order enjoining Augusta from using race- or gender-based methods to award contracts, general counsel Andrew MacKenzie said.

Data must be updated every five years for the city to maintain its Dis­ad­van­taged Business En­ter­­prise program, MacKenzie said. He asked for “a commitment this government is serious about making this work.”

City Administrator Fred Russell said that could mean “an interest by a majority of the commission” and placing “some people on the ground that are following up with department heads and collecting that data.” He offered to add it to the commission's list of goals.

Commissioner Donnie Smith said he wanted the full panel to weigh in. Smith, Wil­liams, Mary Davis and Bill Lock­ett were the only commissioners to attend the session. Davis suggested the administrative services committee continue the discussion at its next meeting.

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