Council members quiz contractors about their minority hiring

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 22, 2013 

— The City Council approved $1.84 million worth of contracts for construction, engineering and feasibility-study projects Tuesday night, but only after the contractors accounted for their minority hiring practices.

Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden flagged the contracts earlier at a council work session.

“It appears there might be some difficulty with these businesses employing people of color,” Cole-McFadden said.

The contracts are with: Riggs-Harrod Builders of Durham, for a Parks and Recreation building; CDM Smith Inc. of Orlando, for water and sewer engineering; and Biohabitats Inc. of Baltimore, for a feasibility study of the Algal Turf Scrubber for removing nutrient pollution in the Falls Lake Watershed.

Riggs-Harrod has a total workforce of 25, with one black employee; CDM Smith has 75 total, three black; Biohabitats has a total of 55, none black.

Bruce Harrod said his company had no black employees at the time of bidding, but has had numerous black employees in the past.

“We’re not seeing African Americans applying,” he said. “At one time, half our (office) staff was African American, including our controller.”

Tim Burkett of Biohabitats said it is difficult to find African Americans with the technical and science training necessary for “a very specialized firm.” Patrice Robbins, equal opportunity manager for CDM Smith, said her firm has particular programs aimed at diversifying its workforce.

Cole-McFadden and Councilman Steve Schewel thanked the company spokesmen for coming to describe their recruiting and hiring policies.

“I understand there are difficulties and mitigating circumstances,” Schewel said. “We feel the issue of minority employment ... is essential for people who want to do business with us.”

All three contracts were approved unanimously.

The council also approved an ordinance requiring family-care and group homes to be at least 375 feet apart. The ordinance was drafted in response to repeated complaints from residents of the depressed Northeast Central Durham neighborhood about the concentration of group homes in their neighborhoods, and their lack of oversight.

The ordinance does not affect existing group and family-care homes, nor does it apply to those operating without the required state licenses, assistant planning director Pat Young said.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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