A procurement policy that calls for sufficient participation from minority- and women-owned businesses in work related to a proposed $585 million convention center may be tweaked to ensure diversity contracting goals are actually met.
At Thursday’s Convention Center Authority meeting, Metro Development and Housing said it is looking at what it can legally do to address concerns over the low number of businesses owned by females and minorities contracted thus far during predevelopment work on the Music City Center.
“We will be, shortly here, ready to present something to you that will address that particular question,” Roxianne Bethune, who is leading the group’s diversity effort, told the mayoral-appointed and Metro Council-approved body that oversees Music City Center.
Projects leaders have said the goal should be for 20 percent of all spending on the convention center to go to small business or those owned by women or minorities. While 21.2 percent of contracts — as of November — have gone to small business, only 5.7 percent have been awarded to minorities and only 1.4 percent to females.
The imbalance in representation has raised alarm among many observers, particularly the Council’s Black Caucus chair Lonnell Matthews Jr., who in a letter two months ago called for “definite consequences” if better monitoring is not taken to ensure more participation from female- and minority-owned businesses.
Additional criticism came Thursday from authority members Leo Waters and Mark Arnold, who called the current policy “soft” and said the procurement policy needs “teeth,” recommending there be “a price to pay” if companies don’t meet participation requirements.
“I want to see the softness removed,” Arnold said.
Dean wrote a letter to the Convention Center Authority on Wednesday, asking it to create a committee devoted to ensuring that opportunities for minority participation are maximized. The authority’s chair, Marty Dickens, said he supports such a committee.
In an e-mail sent Thursday afternoon, Matthews said he is “very satisfied” with the efforts of MDHA and Dean, and encouraged the Convention Center Authority to commit to making minority participation a top priority.