Statesboro's proposed Nondiscrimination and Equity Ordinance — including a 6% margin of preference for local minority- and female-owned businesses bidding for city contracts — is slated for a second reading and possible final approval during Tuesday's 5:30 p.m. City Council meeting.
When a first-reading public hearing was held Oct. 6, most of the 14 citizens who spoke addressed either the whole ordinance or Article 1, which will prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, real estate and public accommodations. It sets out a process for complaints leading to mediation or Municipal Court action.
But when it was their turn, City Council members actually had more to say about Article 2, entitled "Nondiscrimination in Purchasing and Contracting." In the three-part proposed ordinance, Article 2 was the only part sent forward to a second reading by a 4-1 vote instead of 5-0.
Much of the discussion focused on the 6% bidding margin, but Article 2 has other provisions, including a goal for the city government to do 20% of its annual spending with minority and female business enterprises.
"As I look at this, as I look at 'Minority person, African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Native American, Minority business…, female owned … 51 percent,'" District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum said, reciting headwords of definitions in the ordinance.
"So, pretty much it means every other business except those owned by white guys or married couples that are white where the wife owns 50% or less of the company," he said.
Boyum noted that introductory statement in another passage begins, "It is the policy of the City that discrimination against businesses by reason of race, color, gender or national origin … is prohibited."
He quoted similar statements from other passages of the ordinance and suggested that the bidding advantage conflicts with these.
"So, are we discriminating on the basis of race, color, gender and national origin, or are we not discriminating on the basis of race, color, gender …and national origin?"Boyum asked.
What's an MFBE?
District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr noted that the first line of the "Local MFBE buying preference" section states that the city is attempting "to remedy historical disadvantages whenever possible."
The initials MFBE stand for "minority or female business enterprise."
The proposal has separate definitions for a "female business enterprise," as "owned and controlled by one or more females," and a "minority business enterprise" which must be "51 percent owned and controlled by one or more minority persons," including African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans or Native Americans, and certified as such by the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
In fiscal years 2017-2019, the city of Statesboro did 8% of its eligible spending with minority- and female-owned businesses, according to a report City Manager Charles Penny delivered in September.
The other 92%
This meant that 92% of the city's spending was still going to companies where white males are the majority owners, Mayor Jonathan McCollar said during the Oct. 6 discussion.
"So that means that in that 8 percent, every African American, Asian, Hispanic, female, any other person that's in it, they only get 8 percent — 8 percent — of the business the city of Statesboro is doing," McCollar said. "So this is not putting any other group at a disadvantage."
He asserted that the city is simply trying to be more deliberate in providing equal opportunities and supporting local small businesses and that this effort is in line with a recent discussion a Georgia Chamber of Commerce representative had with local officials.
"You can't walk into a classroom and 92% of any demographic is the top performers," McCollar said. "And what's interesting to me is that whenever we have this conversation, the conversation becomes as to whether or not the quality of the work is going to be good."
To land a city contract or purchase, bidders would still have to meet the meet the city's specifications and quality expectations.
How it works
As written, the bid preference would not increase the city's cost on specific purchases or contracts. The way it works is, if a minority or female enterprise that has a Bulloch County business location offers a price that is not the lowest but is within 6% of the low bid from a non-local or non-MFBE bidder, the minority or female local business will be awarded the contract if it agrees to match the low bid.
If two local MFBE bidders are within the 6% margin, the contract opportunity will be offered first to the one making the lower bid.
The city already has a 3% preference of this kind, dating back several years, for "local" bidders, meaning those with a physical business location in Bulloch County.
For purchases, the local MFBE advantage would apply only to those worth more than $1,000. On public works and street projects and those with state or federal funding, it will not apply if it conflicts with state or federal law or grant stipulations. Emergency purchases would be exempt.
The "historical disadvantages" sentence Barr referred to states in full: "The City of Statesboro desires to support local MFBE vendors and attempt to remedy historical disadvantages whenever possible."
An earlier draft had "desires to purchase from" but this was changed to "desires to support" at Barr's suggestion after Boyum objected to the wording during an earlier work session. He had also suggested using the phrase "to level the playing field."
But District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers then offered a rejoinder to the "level playing field" comment and repeated it during last week's meeting.
"You used the metaphor of a ballfield, and I said that some of us don't even get a chance to get on the field," Chavers said. "This is our opportunity to get on the field (from) out there on the outside of the fence trying to figure out a way, 'How can I get on the field to play ball?' We just want to play ball, that's it."
Article 2 would also require that city vendors and contractors sign a "promise of nondiscrimination, enforceable at law." The wording of the promise is in the ordinance.
At the beginning of the Oct. 6 discussion, council members, at Boyum's request, unanimously agreed to take up the three parts of the ordinance separately, with three hearings within the meeting.
On Article 1, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex, as well as disability, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age or military status, Boyum made the motion, seconded by Barr, to move it forward to a second reading. This was approved 5-0.
On Article 3, the "Equity Provision," requiring diversity training for city employees, direction of federal grant funds to historically disadvantaged neighborhoods and a measured and monitored "campaign for equity," Chavers made the motion, seconded by District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack. This also passed 5-0.
But on Article 2, also sent forward on a Chavers and Mack motion, Boyum voted "no," making the tentative approval 4-1.
McCollar then called for a combined vote on the entire ordinance. Protesting that this was not how the council had agreed to handle it, Boyum abstained, making that vote 4-0.
"I believe that everyone bidding on a contract for the city should be on a level playing field and we should give no advantage to anyone based on their race, their gender, their religion, their skin color or their personal preferences," Boyum said later that day. "It should be all about business and what's the best vendor for the city."