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MBE/WBE Committee seeks data on subcontractor use

Wednesday, March 4, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

The MBE/WBE Small Business Advisory Committee knows the information it wants – are the city’s general contractors making a good faith effort to use certified minority subcontractors? – they’re just not sure how to get it.

Last night, SMBRD Director Stephen Elkins told the advisory committee that a survey to measure the current implementation of the Good Faith Effort Process was on hold while Elkins addressed concerns that a survey of general contractors would require them to produce all subcontractor bids.

Because subcontractors often offer different prices to different contractors – possibly giving preferential treatment to one over another – the question was raised whether putting all these bids in the public domain would be a good idea.

“We’re in the process of sending out emails to the contractor community, trying to find out whether it’s a big concern that these bids become public documents,” Elkins said. “Subcontractors are competitive and they may not want those to become public.”

During public comments, Alayne Johnson of the Austin Black Contractors Association pointed out any bid submitted to the city would be public record. The issue, however, is those bids the general contractor might have rejected. The ideal solution would be to get the contractor to submit the bid, plus both the winning and losing subcontractor bids so the advisory committee could determine whether minority subcontractors were not being solicited or were missing the mark on price.

Chair Adrian Neeley acknowledged the issue, noting that he was included in the group of contractors who would give different prices to different contractors.

Elkins was cautioned to try to be as specific as possible with requests. On a project like the Mexican-American Culture Center, 300 subcontractor bids might be submitted. Of those bids, 40 to 50 might be minority contractors. The city needs to have a good idea of what kind information it wanted to get from contractors.

The discussion of the review of compliance with the city’s good faith effort policy was to determine whether the general contractors were pursuing minority subs.

Veronica Briseño Lara said the department also could make an effort to talk to subcontractors about whether they had solicited bids on projects.

The city does go out of its way to review the actions of contractors who fail to pursue minority subcontractors, Elkins said. The goal is to open the discussion to suggest they might be interested in pursuing additional subcontractor options.

In other business at the meeting, the advisory committee reviewed various proposed changes for the SMBR Department. Those activities include improvements to process, technology and communication with minority contractors.

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