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Council subcommittee to hear about proposal Tuesday

Monday, May 13, 2002 by

The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee last week suggested lowering the bar on what is defined as a “large” Capital Improvement Program project. “Large” as currently defined starts at $5 million. The city takes an active role in matching prime contractors with minority- and women-owned sub-contracting businesses, as seen in last week's discussion at the City Council on awarding of two engineering contracts. This change would dovetail with the Council’s increased interest in the whole process for selecting contractors. (See In Fact Daily, May 10, 2002)

The combined regional emergency management center is an example of such a project. Lino Rivera, director of Small and Minority Business Resources, described a series of outreach meetings the city hosted to increase networking on the project. City staff met independently with site contractors, exterior building contractors, interior and mechanical subcontractors. The goal was to set the meetings early enough in the bid process to increase minority interest and participation.

Despite those efforts, however, participation by minority- and women-owned businesses was no higher than in many other similar projects, Rivera admitted. At the time the bids were opened only 8 percent of the businesses involved were minority- or women-owned.

But the city hasn’t given up on new strategies. After some discussion with the Austin Black Contractors Association, the city has agreed to use the Carver Museum and Library project as a test for matching prime contractors with potential minority- and women-owned sub-contractors. The city intends to facilitate meetings between contractors and potential sub-contractors, hoping to encourage more letters of intent from minority contractors.

The process sounded like bid shopping to some commissioners. Commissioner Marion Sanchez Lopez, feared the process would allow prime contractors to intimidate subcontractors to lower their prices. Such a concern angered contractor Carol Hadnot of the ABCA, who said that negotiation was one of the four minimum requirements that any business had to meet to qualify as a certified MBE/WBE contractor.

The city continually fails to meet goals for the participation of African-American firms in city projects, Hadnot said. For example, the City Hall project was handed off to a contractor who bid $600,000, despite a bid of $386,000 from a minority firm. Perhaps, Hadnot said, the winning bidder was able to provide additional services, but without a good give-and-take between the prime contractor and possible subs it’s hard to explain how a bid is chosen.

“Maybe that was the best deal for the contractor on the job contract, but it wasn’t a good deal for my contractor,” Hadnot said. “Those are the kind of things that are happening consistently.”

Assistant City Attorney Sally Henly agreed that the city had not gone far enough in forcing businesses to meet MBE/WBE requirements. In the past, simply faxing potential subcontractors was enough. Now, the city wants to explore more aggressive options. She offered to sit down and review the ordinance with commissioners to explain the various requirements and recommendations for businesses under the MBE/WBE ordinance.

Commissioners, with the exception of Clifton Knezek and Maryam Gharbi, voted in favor of the cap. Knezek wanted to limit participation to projects between $500,000 and $1 million to encourage smaller business development. Gharbi considered the $1 million figure too low, one that would put an undue burden on contractors.

The current definition of $5 million for large projects has tagged only 30 projects over the last five years. Dropping the cap to $1 million—recommended on a split vote of the commission—could set in motion minority participation in hundreds of new projects. The recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council for a final decision.

Council Member Raul Alvarez, who chairs the Council MBE/WBE committee, told the committee it’s possible to redefine what would be considered a large CIP project without providing an undue burden on the city’s administrative staff. The subcommittee will meet Tuesday night to consider the proposal to redefine large projects, staff procedures for determining “Good Faith Efforts” as prescribed by the M/WBE ordinance and public disclosure of bid information.

ZAP Commission fails to overturn director's decision

Neighbors around the proposed King Fisher Creek Subdivision in southeast Austin thought they would have one more chance to fight the developer when they left the Zoning and Platting Commission last Tuesday night. Commissioners had been unable to muster a quorum vote for any action on their appeal of a balance of tract waiver granted by Mike Heitz, director of Watershed Protection and Development Review.

However, Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry later informed commissioners that one of their votes—the one rejecting the neighbors’ appeal—was a final decision. Five commissioners make up a quorum. With Commissioner Vincent Aldridge absent, and Commissioners Michael Casias and Angular Adams abstaining, only six commissioners voted on the item.

Casias recused himself because he is involved in a competing project in the same neighborhood. Adams abstained because she was absent on April 30 when the commission held a public hearing on the matter. At that time, a motion to deny the appeal failed on a vote of 4-2-1. The motion to grant the appeal also failed, with only Commissioners Niyanta Spelman and Jean Mather voting in favor of it.

Parker Springs Condominiums is scheduled to receive $200,000 in funds from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). But that assistance could be withdrawn if TDHCA officials decide the project has not met all the appropriate deadlines and requirements. Lee Sloan, president of the Kensington Park Homeowners Association, told In Fact Daily, “Our neighborhood association, along with SCAN (Southeast Corner Alliance of Neighborhoods), will avail ourselves of every legal avenue available to us. That includes appeals to the board of directors of TDHCA as well as the staff.” Sloan said he is uncertain about when the agency would make its final decision on the project.

For a look at the history of this battle, see In Fact Daily, Feb. 13, 2002, March 4, 2002, March 21, 2002 and May 1, 2002.

Council Member Raul Alvarez responds . . . Last week In Fact Daily noted that Alvarez was the only member of the Council arguing with Council Member Will Wynn over Prop. 1, and we thus speculated he was supporting the ordinance. Alvarez was out of town and did not get back to us until Friday, at which time he said he had taken no position on the proposal and that his argument with Wynn was only about interpretation of one section of the ordinance. However, he was the only member of the Council who wanted to challenge Wynn on the immediate funding question, which Wynn was using to condemn the ordinance . . . Cleaning out their desks . . . Staff of departing Council Member Beverly Griffith are looking for other work, of course. In addition, Frank Kopic, who served as secretary to Council Member Will Wynn, has already moved on to another city job. Kopic was an able assistant to Council Members Bill Spelman and Brigid Shea before Wynn came to City Hall. He is now executive assistant to Tracy Watson and Marcia Choo at the newly created

Office of Dispute Resolution. The office is so new, Kopic said, that he hasn’t gotten a phone number, although he expects to get one today. . . . Aquifer district swears in new member . . . David Carpenter joined the board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District on Friday. Jim Camp is the new president of the board and Bill Welch remains vice president. Former Board President Craig Smith, who handily won re-election to the Place 5 seat, did not run for president. He has a busy law practice to manage in addition to his aquifer district duties . . . Big unofficial party . . . Council Member Beverly Griffith’s real estate office/campaign headquarters was overflowing with flowers, friends and well-wishers Friday night.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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