Asheville’s Minority Business Program lacks recent reports

Written by on July 2, 2012 in Buncombe, Jobs and the Economy, Politics, Top News Comments Off
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City administrators are unable to tell whether Asheville’s Minority Business Program met its participation goals for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 because the required annual reports for those years have not been completed.

City of Asheville offices. Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

The program seeks to ensure an equal opportunity for minority and women-owned businesses to participate in city construction, procurement and special services contracting.

The annual reports, which the city requires, are meant to “continuously monitor the effectiveness” of the program and are submitted to Asheville City Council along with recommendations for improvements upon their completion, according to the program’s current plan, which was last revised in 2006.

The annual reports include how many minority and women-owned businesses the city has contracted with, what portion of the city’s expenditures have gone toward each demographic and which minority-owned businesses the city has contracted with during the fiscal year, which is from July 1 to June 30.

The last report available is from 2009 and is posted on the city’s website.

City Administrative Services Manager Brenda Mills said she thought the reports should have been completed and she did not know why they were not done.

Without the reports, Mills could not say whether the program had met is participation goals for 2010 and 2011.

The plan states that the Minority Business Program Coordinator is responsible for completing the annual report. James Lee last held that position and resigned June 12, Mills said.

Lee started coordinating the program in 2009, Mills said. That was the last year an annual report was completed.

Mills said she will be working on the reports for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 “over the next few months,” and that they will be released following approval from city staff and City Council.

Mills, who served as the program’s coordinator from 1998 to 2009, said Lee had left to pursue another employment opportunity and that his departure was unrelated to the issue.

Mills also said that the responsibility for compiling the reports had been consolidated from multiple positions since the plan was adopted as a joint program between Asheville and Buncombe County in 1998.

At that time, there were three people who compiled the annual reports, Mills said.

The City of Asheville took over management of the program in 2005, at which time the Minority Business Program Coordinator was given the task of compiling the annual report.

Mills said that, with other responsibilities like training and planning, the process of compiling the reports has been prolonged, and the time it takes varies from year to year.

“It’s a lot of interruptions,” Mills said.

Currently, the Minority Business Plan does not set a timeframe for when the reports should be completed, and Mills said she didn’t think the lack of reports affected the city’s ability to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

“If you’re working with the program, which the coordinator is, I don’t need a report to know what I did last year,” Mills said. “The report is for City Council.”

City Councilman Jan Davis said he was unaware that such a report existed.

“We have a great deal of awareness of the program but as far as a report, I was not aware of it,” Davis said.

Vice-Mayor Esther Manheimer said she was not familiar enough with the program to answer any questions about the annual reports.

Mayor Terry Bellamy and City Manager Gary Jackson were contacted for this news article at the end of last week but did not respond.

Although the reports are unavailable, Mills said that at the end of the 2009 fiscal year, there appeared to be a decline in contracting due to budget constraints.

“This had an impact on all businesses who normally contracted or bid on contracting opportunities for the city,” she said.

However, Mills said there wouldn’t be a complete picture of the contracting situation until the annual reports for 2010 and 2011 were completed.

Mills said that Lee had “done the preliminary numbers” and that information just needed to be organized into a report.

“We’re not way behind,” she said.

Mills did say that she felt the program has been overall successful since the city took control in 2005.

“The program is well known and as far as the feedback I have received, very well respected,” Mills said. “Continual efforts to find new and innovative ways to impact the community are a priority for the city.”

Currently, Mills said the city’s Office of Economic Development was holding an internal discussion as to the future of the program, although she could not give any specifics.

“We will begin discussions internally in the next few weeks and will be looking at meeting with focus groups about the program,” Mills said.

She also said she would be interviewing candidates to fill the program coordinator position.

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Hank Shell

Hank Shell is a contributing reporter and photographer with Carolina Public Press. Contact him at shelljh@email.appstate.edu.

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