The company contracted to perform a disparity study on the procurement practices of the Metro Nashville government has concluded that the city’s procurement practices are inherently discriminatory, something that minority businesses have been saying for years.
The new study by Atlanta firm Griffin & Strong P.C. shows that “the participation of minority and women-owned firms as both prime and subcontractors demonstrates significant underutilization.” The study also found that “though Metro Nashville’s current program is predominantly race and gender neutral, that it will not resolve the disparities.”
“There is a statistically significant disparity in the Nashville market between the percentage of qualified ‘minority and women-owned’ firms (MWBE) willing and able to provide goods or services to Metro Nashville and those who are utilized,” said Michelle Clark-Jenkins, Sr. director of the consulting division of Griffin & Strong.
Clark-Jenkins, who was the project manager on the disparity study also said: “The disparity that exists cannot be adequately remedied with race and gender-neutral remedies”
Jenkins noted that the city does have effective tools for ensuring greater parity, but “for a myriad of reasons such as lacking administrative, legislative, and infrastructure support, these tools have gone unused.”
The study found that though there is not a scarcity of minority firms that apply for contracts, there are barriers inherent in the city’s system that inhibit MWBE firms from becoming contractors.
Though African American-owned firms represent a significant amount of businesses that apply for contracts, they receive less than 3.5% of awards.
“When compared to availability figures, there is significant underutilization in every category,” said Clark-Jenkins.
The study found:
1) Small firms have difficulty competing and are unfairly stereotyped as unable to do the work and lacking capacity. Small firms want to compete as primes.
2) MWBEs are often contacted to fulfill “good faith efforts” requirements, but not actually considered or utilized.
3) The proposal process is lengthy and expensive with excessive amounts of paperwork. Inconsistent communications about upcoming bids was also noted.
4) There are unnecessarily high bonding and insurance requirements.
5) Lack of Coordination of Resources for small businesses leaves MWBE’s ‘lost in the shuffle.’ Most business development organizations are tailored for young technology firms dominated by non-minority males.
When asked by District 5 Councilman Scott Davis whether there was meaningful improvement since the last disparity study, Clark-Jenkins said ‘no,’ and added that what they found was that an “inference of discrimination has been legally found,” and also that there is a ripple effect throughout the whole city—even in the private sector.
Upon taking office, Briley assured Black leaders that he understands the problem, and took steps to ensure that his administration has an inclusive agenda in naming Ashford Hughes, Sr., formerly the mayor’s office senior adviser of workforce, diversity and inclusion, as the city’s new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer and forming the Minority Business Advisory Council. According to Hughes, disparity studies need to be done from time to time so that Metro can analyze where it is with its procurement and minority participation.
“It’s important to note that we can all look outside at Nashville right now and see that our market has changed. Our city has grown and these studies help us look at what those best practices are,” he said. “This is our first disparity study since 2005. Because of a lot of these policies sunset after five years, it’s important that we do this under a continuous basis.”
Michelle Hernandez Lane, the city’s Chief Procurement Officer, agrees.
“We continue do to [these] studies to set the groundwork for us to understand exactly what we are able to do as a city, to insist and ensure we have the maximum amount of inclusion by law, and to make sure we are not using a one-fits-all approach.”
In an interview earlier this year, Mayor Briley said that his administration is “committed to ensuring all Nashvillians can equitably participate in our city’s success and growth. To this end, we must focus on addressing long-standing systemic issues. Our procurement process should, and will, reflect this commitment.”
Briley has committed to presenting a plan of action in October, which will include new legislation to ease the disparity gap.
Mayor Briley’s statement on Disparity Study:
“In 2017, Metro Nashville commissioned the firm, Griffin & Strong P.C. to conduct a comprehensive and independent review of Metro Government’s procurement process to ensure minority-owned and women-owned firms had equal and full access. This report, which is being presented to Council today, confirms there are disparities in the participation of those firms in the city’s procurement process. These results, while not surprising, are unacceptable.
“As I talk about often, my administration is committed to ensuring all Nashvillians can equitably participate in our city’s success and growth. To this end, we must focus on addressing long-standing systemic issues. Our procurement process should, and will, reflect this commitment.
“I am ready to move forward with all 10 recommendations outlined in the report to address disparity and access. Furthermore, I have directed my administration to work with community, business and Metro stakeholders to take these steps. After this process, I will present an action plan in October, including new legislation that will be introduced to Metro Council.”
This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride.