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County hosts meeting on business disparities

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) is currently conducting a disparity study to determine how fairly the county is administering contracts to businesses owned by women and minorities.

On Thursday, local business owners and contractors will have the chance to add their input to the study and learn how to go about doing business with the county.

The county will host a disparity-study community meeting from 6 p.m., to 8 p.m., Aug. 26, at the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center, located at 2300 Ga. Highway 138, in Jonesboro. The meeting will include an informal networking session from 6 p.m., to 6:30 p.m., and an address from BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell, according to organizers.

During the meeting, representatives from Mason Tillman Associates, an Oakland, Calif.-based public policy, research and public relations firm, will take comments from the community to integrate into the disparity study. At the same time, county department heads will speak with local business owners about upcoming contracting opportunities, and the requirements to qualify for those contracts.

Clayton County Public Information Officer Jamie Carlington said a key goal of the meeting is to educate the public about the county's bidding process for construction projects, electrical work, consulting, and other projects. She said smaller and less-established businesses can often miss out on opportunities, due to a lack of information.

"Basically, what it is going to do is introduce the public to the study and get the county introduced to its bid list," Carlington said. "This is an important issue with the Board of Commissioners, and we want to make sure the public is fully aware of how to submit bids to the county. We're just making sure that the playing field is level for all parties."

Rod Gray, director of the Clayton County Central Services Department, said the county will share its current list of bids, as well as register businesses for its list of vendors during the meeting. He said the information from participants will help determine if women-and minority-owned businesses are receiving a fair share of local construction and project dollars, based on their availability.

"You do the study to see if a disparity does exists, and what we can do to promote minority-and women-owned businesses," Gray said. "It's not as much of a problem, as much as a desire to create opportunity."

Prior to beginning the study four months ago, "there was desire to do whatever we can do to stimulate business in the area," he said. "In order to move forward with these types of initiatives, the disparity study is key, because we don't want to be involved in litigation because of something we tried to do.

"They [Mason Tillman Associates] are experts in the field and they would develop a legally defensible program, if that was the direction we wanted to go," Gray added.

Eleanor Mason Ramsey, president of Mason Tillman Associates, said the study may potentially benefit African Americans, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, and Caucasian women, who own businesses in the county. She said the study will also help the county get a better idea of whom it is doing business with.

"I think what studies do, and should do, for the county is help them understand who they are doing business with, who is willing and able to do business with them, and identify any business practices that may deter minority or women businesses from doing business with them, or any practices that might limit the amount of information available," Ramsey said.

Individuals interested in attending, should RSVP at (770) 216-1702, or www.claytonstudy@mtaltd.com.