Suit against city expands

The city's legal fight over its purchasing practices enlarged this week to include a minority business program.

Thompson Building Wrecking Co. amended its Richmond County Superior Court lawsuit to add allegations that the city enacted an unconstitutional Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program ordinance.

In Augusta, the program, which seeks to increase business opportunities for minority contractors, has caused reverse discrimination, the complaint alleges.

Daniel Hamilton, one of the attorneys defending the city, said Thursday that he has not seen the amended complaint, but believes the city's procurement department operates legally and ethically.

Thompson's battle with the city began last year when city officials used the company's technical violation of the bidding process to reject one of Thompson's bids.

The Augusta demolition company was eliminated from the competition to tear down an empty Telfair Street building. Thompson's bid was more than $250,000 cheaper than the bid chosen.

Since then, Thompson's legal offensive against the city has led to a lawsuit over what it claims are unfair and arbitrary bidding processes. Tuesday's amendment to the lawsuit expands on that theme.

Mr. Hamilton said the facts will support the procurement department's balanced consideration and recommendations on bids.

Thompson's complaint alleges that the use of racial classification is legal only to correct discriminatory practices. To be used properly, a pattern of discrimination must first be identified - a step Augusta leaders skipped, the lawsuit alleges.

The city ordinance states that the purpose of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program is to promote equal opportunity. To do this, it allows the city to set policy and procedures to ensure Augusta's minority-owned small businesses have equal access to city contracts.

Thompson's amended complaint alleges that nonminority contractors have been discriminated against because the city's procurement policies put them at a competitive disadvantage.

The lawsuit further contends that the city has awarded contracts to non-Augusta businesses over city-owned companies. It alleges that more than half of the companies on the city's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise list are not Augusta businesses.

Specifically, Thompson contends that three particular bids were chosen by commissioners under the false impression that the awards were going to Augusta businesses.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State Web site, all three - Acsential Technologies, B&E Jackson and Reliable Demolition - are in the Atlanta area. The companies' owners also list addresses in the Atlanta area.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.