February 14, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---Augusta must change the way it does business after a ruling from a federal judge today.
A temporary restraining order now prevents the city from helping small and minority-owned businesses get contracts.
The city's Disadvantaged Business Program was designed to put everyone on a level playing field after complaints of minority businesses being left out. But now a judge has halted the program due to claims by some business owners that it's unconstitutional.
Thompson Wrecking is Augusta's largest demolition company. Much of their business comes through the city.
Owner Hiram Thompson says the way the city awards contracts is unfair.
"I feel we've been discriminated against," he said.
Thompson filed suit and he says he feels better after the federal judge's ruling.
Today the judge issued a restraining order against Augusta's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, or DBE, program, preventing the city from giving special help to small or minority-owned businesses.
"Augusta's program is blatantly unconstitutional," said Robert Mullins, attorney for Thompson Wrecking.
The DBE program started in 2005, and it allowed the city to solicit and inform minority businesses of jobs so they could compete with larger firms.
Steven Kendrick was on the board that launched the program.
"A lot of good folks are getting opportunities that they would not have otherwise through this program, and it really saddens me that somehow it may go away because of the efforts of a few," he told News 12.
Jerome Jones owns J&B Construction. He says it's ironic the DBE program is being called unfair.
"We pay the same amount of taxes as everyone else pays, but we don't do hardly any of the work. The second we get a decent job, then we hear 'reverse discrimination'. That's what I think is unfair," he said.
Thompson Wrecking says minorities should have equal opportunism, but Augusta should not have such a broad program...especially when it often leads to work going to out-of-town companies.
"We're not here to hurt anyone, certainly not minorities," Thompson said. "We're here to straighten out the problem to see everyone has an opportunity to participate."
City attorney Steve Shepard has ten days to respond to the ruling and seek to have the restraining order lifted. If the judge rejects that motion, his ruling will stand until this full case can be heard in court.