County bidding process to be more inclusive

By Justin Boron

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the county government will implement a more inclusive bidding process to balance the demographic composition of its contracts with the majority black population.

In response to heavy public demand from the county's majority black population, Bell promised, early in his campaign, to raise the level of minority companies involved with the county.

Members of the community have said as little as 5 percent of the companies given contracts by the county government and the school system are minority businesses.

While no one in the government can substantiate this number, Bell and others admit the amount was low.

During the previous administration, community leaders beckoned for a change in the way the county awards sometimes lucrative contracts for development projects like those in its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program.

But they said they received little response.

"The past administration didn't seem to think that was a priority," said Dexter Matthews, the president of the local NAACP branch. "They need to find a way to give us more of our money. That's only fair."

To accomplish this, Bell said the central services department, which conducts the county's bidding process, will carry out an outreach program to notify more small, disadvantaged companies of projects open for bid.

One of the central problems with the current bidding system is its notification process, which is often limited to larger businesses, said Gail Davenport, the president of the county coalition for concerned black citizens and who came before the county commission two weeks ago requesting more minority involvement.

Peggy Davidson, the director of central services, said the county's notification list is open to anyone who registers. The application is available on the county's Web site, www.co.clayton.ga.us, she said.

But Davenport said publicity for the projects' selection process should be extended to more social areas of the community like churches and activist organizations.

The Georgia Black Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta and other organizations geared toward the success of minority business should also be used to circulate bid information as well, she said.

In addition to the problem of exposure, Bell also said the rhetoric surrounding the subject of minority business should be remedied.

"I am sick of telling people that they are a minority," he said.

Blacks make up almost 60 percent of the county's population.

Instead, Bell characterizes his target business in the new initiative as "disadvantaged."

While minorities have gained political access, he said they may still face institutional barriers from acquiring capital.

Other metro Atlanta governments have succeeded in incorporating minority business involvement in its government.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has touted the diversity of the fifth runway project at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, claiming it has almost 30 percent minority and female subcontractors involved.

Matthews has suggested following a similar model to Atlanta.

But Bell said he is not going to base a future resolution for the bidding process on any other community.

Instead, his plan to retool the bidding process would include a company's contribution to the community in its awarding of contracts.

By adding points for companies involved with business education, Bell said more local companies would succeed in the bidding process.

Currently, contracts are awarded by the lowest bid after pre-qualification, Davidson said.

On some service projects, like an engineering study, companies competing for a contract are evaluated on their previous experience in addition to its bid, she said.

This type of evaluation often eliminates small businesses which are not capable of supplying such broad services, Matthews said.

On Atlanta's fifth runway project, the contract was subdivided and awarded to several relatively small construction companies.

Bell said he was open to the possibility of dividing the projects between more than one company but could not give specifics on how the bidding process would be changed to accomplish the multi-layered contract system.