DPW quizzed on minority contractors

East Baton Rouge Metro Council members quizzed Department of Public Works officials Monday night about its use of minority contractors for public works projects.

The questions came near the end of a nearly three-hour informational budget meeting, at which council members questioned public works officials, the head of the city-parish’s Finance Department and the parish attorney about their proposed 2013 budgets.

“What are we doing for DBE (disadvantaged business enterprise) participation?” Councilwoman Tara Wicker asked DPW officials.

Josh Crowe, a project manager for CH2M Hill, the program manager on the SSO program, said his company was working with an engineering firm in a mentor-protégé program for minority-owned businesses.

The firms spend time learning different aspects of how CH2M Hill conducts business while being awarded a subcontract on the project, interim DPW Director David Guillory said.

It takes firms about 12 to 18 months to go through the program, Guillory told the council.

The current minority-owned business being mentored is the second to go through the program, Guillory said, and DPW and CH2M Hill will be trying to add a third firm to the program soon.

Crowe said CH2M Hill also worked with eight DBE firms on the real-estate acquisition side of the project.

After further questioning by Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, Crowe said that approximately 20 percent of the contractors involved in the city-parish’s Sanitary Sewer Overflow program are minority-owned businesses.

Guillory stressed however, that though one in five contracts is a minority-owned business, the amount of money paid to those contractors is far less than 20 percent of the total dollars spent on the $1.4-billion project. Generally, the DBE’s “are smaller contractors,” Guillory said.

Guillory also said that the firm that oversees the parish’s Green Light Plan, CSRS Inc., is looking to implement a similar mentorship program.

William Daniel, who serves as Mayor-President Kip Holden’s chief administrative officer, said the city-parish explored the idea of adding a DBE-participation requirement to some city-parish contracts but found that posed legal problems.

Some other cities, such as Shreveport and New Orleans, had such requirements, but those were accomplished through state legislation in which East Baton Rouge Parish was not included, Daniel said.

The SSO program is a $1.4 billion, federally mandated sewer upgrade plan funded by a half-cent sales tax and sewer user fees.

Green Light Plan projects are financed by a voter approved half-cent sales tax for projects to alleviate traffic congestion.