If a business doesn’t have a diverse workforce, it won’t be getting a nod from Councilman Fred Richardson for any future city work. An ordinance proposed by the District 1 representative would ask any contractor about the diversity of its workforce as a part of the city’s bid process. But during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Richardson asked that a vote on the proposal be held over for two weeks, in order to allow it to go through the council’s Administrative Services Committee for further review.

Richardson explained the ordinance was his response to a disparity study the city commissioned during the last year of the Sam Jones administration. Results of the study were published in February.

At that time, the council disagreed on what to do with the recommendations of the study.

“When we took the disparity study into committee nobody wanted to mess with it,” Richardson said. “It was so complicated. I came back with something easy. This is at minimum what we ought to be doing.”

The $30,000 study prepared by Speeches Etc., LLC found disparity existed in the number of contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses by the city, a fact that Richardson said did not surprise him.

“I knew what the answer was going to be,” he said. “There is disparity. Now that you know that, what are you going to do?”

The study collected data on procurement activities over a three-year period from 2010 to 2012. The study group prepared surveys to collect demographic data on participating agencies and minority-owned businesses.

While the study found “under-utilization” of minority-owned businesses, it didn’t necessarily find discrimination, according to the executive summary.

A table included in the study provided a list of “self-reported accounts of all minority-owned businesses awarded contracts.” During the three years of the study it showed awards of just over $1 million to 10 different businesses.

Recommendations included requiring the city to compile and regularly update a minority-owned vendor list and hire a full-time compliance officer. Another recommendation suggested developing a diversity policy or procedure to include minority-owned businesses in the contracting and procurement processes.
Richardson said if the ordinance is approved, he would vote against any contract award for an agency that has less than 15 percent diversity in its workforce. He added that the law could force businesses that rely on the city to change their hiring practices.

“I hope this will bring change,” Richardson said. “We can bring a company in here and say ‘if you want money from the city then you’re going to have to answer the question.’”

It remains to be seen if such an action would run afoul of the state’s bid law, which requires cities and other public entities to accept the lowest responsible bid for work or procurement of services.

City Attorney Ricardo Woods said the state’s law does offer some wiggle room in that the word “responsible” isn’t clearly defined. He said asking a contractor about the level of diversity among its workforce is “perfectly acceptable.” He added that the law might change the way the council does business.

Lori Lein, general counsel for the Alabama League of Municipalities, agreed. She said the state law “doesn’t spell out what a responsible bidder is” and it’s within the council’s discretion to determine.

John Robinson Sr., co-owner of Engineered Textile Products, said he has questions about the proposal. He said his company doesn’t ask about race or gender when they set up interviews with job seekers.

“It bothered me when it came across my desk,” he said. “It seems like this is the first step in something that could be onerous.”

Robinson said he doesn’t see what good it will do the city and might lead to contractors making hiring decisions based on race and gender.

Robinson, whose company does about $10,000 in work for the city each year, has 30 to 35 employees. He said half are black and the workforce is divided “fairly evenly” between men and women.

In other business, the council voted to rezone property at the corner of Springhill Avenue and Kilmarnock Street to allow for a parking lot expansion at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School. No one spoke in opposition of the move at a public hearing. Councilman John Williams said the move was just one of many the school was planning to make in the future to help alleviate traffic concerns. He asked permission to work directly with city staff to help the school move future items forward.

The council also approved a $19,000 contract to Medical Disposal Systems for the disposal of blood contaminated medical products for the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department.

The council approved a three-year, $72,648 contract with Jerry Pate Turf & Irrigation for the lease of 80 electric golf carts for Azalea City Golf Course. And the council also called for a future public hearing on rezoning from residential to business of various lots on Furr Street. The rezoning would make way for a storage facility. The hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3.

Councilors and the administration spoke about the success of the MoonPie Over Mobile New Year’s Eve event. An initial report from Events Mobile confirmed all four hotels downtown were sold out, city spokesman George Talbot said. The only complaint, he told the council, was the length of time it took to get a meal, due to long restaurant lines. No official count on the number of visitors was taken.

Finally, Council President Gina Gregory announced the city would be accepting resumes in February for municipal judgeships. Interviews for one full-time judgeship and two part-time positions would occur after the Friday, Feb. 20 application deadline.