After a series of service-provider hassles stemming from policy requirements, the Liberty County Development Authority is looking to update its minority/woman business-enterprise policy.
The board met Nov. 16 to discuss the policy, which is aimed at increasing contract opportunities for businesses owned by minorities and women.
LCDA consultant DeLisa Espada, head of Strategic Business Solutions Unlimited, walked the board through the policy and suggested changes to the version enacted in 2008, which contains gray areas on proposal procurement and accountability.
The policy came into question at least two times recently, with board member Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, insisting procedure had been breached.
Williams said in June that a local minority-owned business was not treated equitably during a procurement process for engineering proposals.
Williams also took issue in May when landscaping contractor U.S. Lawns fell below a minority-participation subcontractor quota due to a contract modification when Hinesville Technology Park tenant Florapharm took over its own landscaping. The minority subcontractor was assigned to that site.
The LCDA’s current minimum-participation goal for MBE firms with LCDA contracts is 10 percent, and the goal for WBE firms is 3 percent.
Williams recommended that they increase their goal to a more aggressive level, such as 15 and 5 percent or 20 and 6 percent.
The board did not agree during the workshop on a new target percentage.
During discussion on the targets, board member Paul Krebs said he has a “hard time formulating this policy.”
“We’re all taxpayers; this is a tax-supported entity,” Krebs said. “A tax-supported entity, in my opinion, should not be involved with the formulation of any policy that’s inconsistent with our primary objective, which is using the property taxes or the revenues that we receive to operate.
“And if we do that, then we need to use that to the maximum benefit of all citizens of Liberty County, not just a specific group. … I don’t see how we, as representatives of the taxpayers, can make a policy like that,” Krebs said.
“Well, you certainly have that right,” Williams said. “We’re not doing anything that’s not being done all over the country right now; this is not new ground.”
“I understand it, Al, but I mean, times are tough, and if you can find a competent MWBE, that would be the ideal situation … I don’t want to do anything to add to the cost of a project,” Krebs said.
Espada said the policy does not require any added cost on behalf of the authority, and board member Robert Stokes agreed.
“The reason that this was ever brought about was the game goes back to relationships; no minority businesses were getting any participating until there were some goals, and these goals worked a lot of places, and there’s no reason these goals won’t work in Liberty County,” Williams said.
While the policy sets clear benchmarks for construction contracts, it is more ambiguous when it comes to professional-service contracts.
LCDA Director of Finance and Administration Carmen Cole asked the board to clarify where legal and engineering services — which currently are contracted with Jones, Osteen & Jones and P.C. Simonton & Associates, respectively — would fall under the new policy.
Espada and board members cited the city of Savannah’S policy, which exempts professional services from the policy if they are less than $75,000. The local board will look to establish its own price ceiling for non-MWBE contracts.
Also to be determined is how exactly the contracts are monitored for compliance. The board still has to determine whether the percent of minority participation is calculated as a percentage of the total contract cost, and where in the duration of a service that percentage must be met.
They also discussed the verification process. The current policy requires businesses to be certified by a third party, but Espada suggested that they allow businesses to self-certify.
Among the criteria for certification are: that the business is a for-profit at least 51 percent owned by one or more minority individuals; whose daily business operations are controlled by one or more of the minority owners; certified by one of more recognized certifying agencies; and whose ownership interest is real, continuous and not created solely to meet the criteria required to participate.
The board agreed to allow businesses with a documented track record to self-certify, but to require an outside entity to certify a startup. In either case, the board will encourage businesses to seek certification from entities such as Chatham County, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council and the U.S. Small Business Administration 8(a) Program.
Espada is slated to present a revised policy to the board during its next meeting, which has been moved to Dec. 10.