Meck County contracting program set for review

The county is examining how it awards contracts and whether underserved groups are getting a fair share.

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Mecklenburg County’s procurement machine is about to get the business equivalent of a colonoscopy.

The county has hired an Atlanta law firm to examine every aspect of how the various county departments award contracts, Peter Zeiler, Mecklenburg’s economic development director, tells Qcitymetro. The system, he said, will be examined “soup to nuts, top to bottom, inside out and upside down.”

A second part of the physical – a disparity study – will examine whether companies owned by women and minorities are getting a fair share.

Why it matters:

  • Mecklenburg County spends ten of millions of dollars each year buying goods and services – everything from construction projects to printing contracts.
  • Who gets those deals can determine success and failure for some small businesses.
  • Government spending also impacts the local economy, which can then impact economic mobility in communities of color.

A “terrible” record

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At a Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum back in May, County Manager Dina Diorio said Mecklenburg had a “terrible” record of doing business with firms owned by women and minorities — at least in some instances. She had gone there to promote the county’s $1.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2020, which included $8.1 million in spending to address various racial disparities.

Since then, the county has launched a $2.75 million fund that will make loans of up to $75,000 to qualified small and start-up businesses.

About the exam

Zeiler said the Atlanta firm, Griffin & Strong, P.C., will look at industry standards and best practices from other counties around the nation, in addition to examining all aspects of Mecklenburg’s procurement chain. He said the examination process will be “deliberate and intentional.”

Such reviews typically are done every three to five years, he said. But in the case of Mecklenburg, the last review was completed more than 15 years ago, he said.

Disparity defined

Courts have ruled that local governments cannot set arbitrary targets for awarding contracts to women and minorities. Those targets, Zeiler said, must be based on “availability versus utilization.”

Here’s a simplified example: If the county spends $100 a year on cleaning contracts and minority-owned cleaning companies make up 20% of the local market, then the county may legally set a target to award 20% of its cleaning contracts (or $20) to minority-owned printing firms.

But to do that, Zeiler said, the county must show “methodically documented gaps.” He said results of the study, due sometime next summer or fall, could be used to help the county set new procurement targets.

Public invited

The county will kick off this process in November when Griffin & Strong will host two information sessions for local vendors.

Meeting details:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 1-3 p.m. at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center (600 East 4th St.), Suite 226
  • Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 5-7 p.m. at the Valerie C. Woodard Conference Center (3205 Freedom Dr.), Room 4014/4015

Participants may register for either session at Eventbrite. Light refreshments will be served.

The bottom line

Zeiler said he hopes local business owners will attend the sessions to talk about their experiences both “positive and negative.”

Glenn H. Burkins is founder and publisher of Qcitymetro. Read his bio. Contact: