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County Council, December 15

To expand Minority Small Business program
Agrees to make executive sessions last agenda item
Warwick Jones

There was heat and confusion over the plan to expand the County’s minorities’ small business program. Staff made a presentation about a month ago but was instructed to come back with a budget and more details. This they did but there was a lot of discussion before agreement was reached.

The County has made much progress in expanding the participation of minorities in procurement and contracting. In its presentation, staff noted the success but indicated more could be done for these small businesses – to help them access capital, and obtain financial and business advice. Last night, staff proposed a budget of $200,000 for the next 6 months to finance 1 full time and 2 part time employees. At the end of the period, these employees would transition into a 501(c)3, to be created, and continue providing a service.

Council member Qualey was not happy with the proposal and questioned the need. He also thought more information was necessary. Council members Sass and Schweers also sought more information. The other members of Council were happy with the intent of the proposal but Council member Rawl was unhappy that the initiative should pass to a non-profit. It should remain with the County. Council members Darby, Pryor Johnson and Condon were strongly supportive of the proposal.

Council member Qualey asked who initiated the plan to expand the Minority Small Business program. According to Chairman Summey it grew out of a meeting between him and Senator Kimpson.

After lengthy discussion, Council member Condon called for the question. Council agreed to her motion and voted on the issue. Only Council members Qualey and Schweers voted against.
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We thought recommendations that were made by the Administration Policy/Rules Committee were commendable and would meet with Council approval. Generally they did, but with some modifications.

The first proposal was that Executive Session items should be announced as soon as they are known, listed on the agenda when they are known ahead of time, and should be listed as the last item on the agenda, where practicable.The latter was to not inconvenience the public who may be present to hear discussion on other items. Council member Schweers asked why the subject of each executive meeting could not be listed on agendas. It seemed that in most instances it could. But some issues may be legally sensitive and Council agreed to have the County attorney determine those to remain without a title. Council voted unanimously in favor of the proposal with the addition of the amendment proposed by Council member Schweers.

The second proposal was complex and can be seen by pressing Download file. It had to do with the distribution of funds under the County’s Community Development program. Importantly, it was designed to remove some of the issues related to allocations and particularly, the politics. Overall, we think Council was supportive but there were some issues. Some Council members wanted staff to determine the allocations according to guidelines set by Council, but Council members Darby and Pryor were not happy about this. Council member Pryor wanted Council to make the final determination while Council member Darby wanted to ensure that smaller entities could fully participate.

There was discussion about the issue of “big” and “small” and how they were defined in separating the applicants. The issue was to be studied by staff and the finding brought back to Council. Council agreed to defer a decision until staff made its report.

Only Council member Rawl voted against the deferral and he did not give a reason. But we suspect he thought that size should not be an issue. The parameters laid out in the proposal ensured that the funds will be wisely spent. And besides, drawing the boundary between “big” and “small” is arbitrary and the answers could be as many as there are Council members. The discussion on this issue at the next Council meeting could be tedious.
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We thought the anger over Chairman Summey’s unfortunate remarks reported some months ago had died down, at least in the Council’s public participation period. We were wrong. The number of speakers has dwindled from a month or so ago but the vehemence of their remarks remain strong. Again, there was the call for his resignation and questions as to the sincerity of his public remarks on racial issues.

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