In 1994 the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program was created to combat the findings of the city's first disparity study. The study found that of the 1608 vendors available for contracting, 12 percent of the firms were owned by minorities and women. 88 percent were run by white males. In 2007, that study was challenged in court.
Attorney Robert Mullins says, “the disparity study was outdated, first of all. Secondly, it didn't have statistical analysis. Then, not only did it not show any kind of discrimination per se, it wasn't narrowly tailored, which any kind of racial preference has to show.”
The city of Augusta was sued by Thompson Building Wrecking Company. The suit claimed the city showed favoritism to minority owned businesses over those that were not minority-owned. The result of that suit: “the city was enjoined by the Federal court from putting anything in bid documents or on the web site that would indicate that a bidder would receive any kind of benefit or preference because of their race or status,” Mullins explains.
Fast forward to 2009; another disparity study was conducted, costing the city $500,000. Now, the results of that study are being scrutinized by some commissioners and the public.
Yvonne Gentry, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Coordinator, says “the 2009 study revealed that Augusta Richmond County still has a disparity as it relates to procurement opportunities with minority and women owned businesses.”
Gentry says the city is making changes to fix the way it goes about handing out contracts. But she says there are still improvements to be made.
“The study suggests evidence that was significant to show that we really need to implement a race/gender conscious program,” she adds.
The study suggests eight changes, ranging from appointing a contracting task force, to improving contracting and procurement data collection. That study is posted on the city's web site. The link is: http://www.augustaga.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2072