By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Like many who’ve seen progress on civil rights, several community leaders say metro’s new Equal Business Opportunity Law is a good start, but there’s more work to be done.
“Passing legislation is the easy part,” said IT Solutions by Design President Alex Coure,
who’s been frustrated by local government contracting. “Hard work and difficult tasks remain. We’ll just have to see if Nashville follows through … or whether it’s going to be business as usual.”
Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell led a panel gathering information and drafting the law enacted Jan. 4.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Dowell said. “We brought people to the table from all avenues to formulate the legislation…”
The law sets: race and gender goals for city purchasing; and goals to include minorities when awarding contracts for certain projects. It stems from a disparity study on whether minorities get a fair share of city spending. Atlanta-based consultants, Griffin & Strong, reported nearly four months ago that metro conspicuously underutilizes minority businesses.
Nashville’s NAACP Economic Development Committee raised the issue two years ago.
“It was on nobody’s radar,” Committee Co-Chair Don Majors said. “It’s a great piece of legislation if the right policies and procurement practices are put in place. I’m very optimistic that we’ll see some real change in the next 2-3 years.”
Dowell commends Mayor David Briley and Vice Mayor Jim Shulman: “If they didn’t do anything, it wouldn’t have happened.”
The bill’s sponsors are Tanaka Vercher, Sharon Hurt and Scott Davis. Briley named Chief Diversity Officer Ashford Hughes, the Minority Business Advisory Council and Nashville Chamber of Commerce as important advocates for the law.
“When inequities endure … elected officials must take action to help ensure a clear path to prosperity for all citizens,” said Briley, promising to “do everything in my power to ensure its swift and effective implementation.”
Coure, a self-described “results oriented person,” said, “There’s a whole lot more to be done. They passed some legislation in 2008 and … Nashville didn’t follow through…” Discounting good will for action, Coure said. “The mayor may not be mayor in less than a year, and much of the city council … might not be there… If you don’t have an administration that wants to do the right thing, then what good is legislation?”
Councilman Fabian Bedne said “As we get into it, we will find more issues… When you are …
a new American, it’s harder to do business with metro, to some extent.”
Residents should “share with us any roadblock they may find to have a fair shake of getting a contract with metro,” he said. “We want to make sure that nobody is blocked in having an opportunity…”
Requests for proposals use legalistic language, so, “Even if you are English proficient they’re hard to read,” Bedne said. “They have to make it user-friendly to where a regular person can read it.”
Stand Up Nashville Co-Chair Anne Barnett applauds metro for enacting an Equal Business Opportunity Law and commented, “Most people in the city would say we need to have equitable contracting so everybody benefits from growth.”