Two Metro Council members on Wednesday scolded city-parish staff over a failure to adhere to policies in place that encourage contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses.
At issue was a resolution passed in August 2009 by the council that stated a goal of awarding 25 percent of East Baton Rouge city-parish contracts to DBEs, or disadvantaged business enterprises.
The issue was called into question when Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison noted during the Capital Improvements committee meeting that the Baton Rouge Metro Airport included DBE participation goals in its construction project bids, while city-parish Department of Public Works projects do not state such goals.
Assistant Parish Attorney Bob Abbott said the airport uses federal funds, which require DBE participation goals, but the city-parish must adhere to Louisiana’s public bid laws, which forbid the same action.
“We can’t ask bidders to provide us that information until after the contract is signed,” Abbott said. “After the project is let, they report back to us their DBE participation.”
Abbott called the 25 percent goal in the 2009 council resolution a “recommendation.”
Councilwoman Tara Wicker disputed Abbott’s claim that the resolution was nonbinding.
“When you say we don’t have a DBE goal or DBE ordinance in place … that’s incorrect,” Wicker said. “We had a whole lot of people working with us on this DBE policy and they understand and believe that ordinance to be in effect.”
She added that she does not believe the city-parish has been adhering to the rule.
Interim Public Works Director William Daniel said after the meeting that the resolution passed by the council embodied a goal. He said his office works toward meeting that goal by encouraging contractors to subcontract with DBEs and by providing training and mentorship opportunities to DBEs that show the companies how to navigate through the bid process.
Complete DBE participation numbers from city-parish Public Works projects were not available Wednesday afternoon.
However, Daniel said the city-parish’s massive sewer upgrades program, which will cost about $1.2 billion in total, has 83 DBE contractors out of 310 so far, which is about 27 percent.
Daniel said while the city-parish’s total spending contracts may be below the council’s 25 percent goal, he thinks his office meets the mark.
“If we’re not meeting it, we’re close,” he said.
Daniel acknowledged that his office could do a better job tracking the DBE participation and keeping the council informed.
In other business Wednesday, Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle deferred discussion of a proposal to change a city-parish ordinance related to restaurants and the sale of the alcohol.
A restaurant serving alcohol must sell 60 percent non-alcoholic goods to be open on Sundays under the current city-parish ordinance.
Marcelle’s proposal would lower the amount of non-alcoholic goods sold in the ordinance to 55 percent for restaurants and 50 percent for hotels.
Marcelle said she wants more time to get feedback from constituents, and may amend her proposal. The council is expected to consider her amended proposal on Sept. 28.