Judge rules against DBE for second time

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March 15, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---An order from a federal judge may change the way the city of Augusta does business.

US District Judge B. Avant Edenfield ruled to temporarily stop the program designed to help certain small businesses.

In a ten page ruling, Judge Edenfield makes it clear that the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise unfairly used race as a factor when awarding contracts. A day later, both sides have something to say about it.

"I'm disappointed that our city has taken a step backwards," said business owner Steven Kendrick. "I think what we have here is a situation where our DBE program is under attack and I don't think that's fair."

"We're very pleased that the court has decided that Augusta's DBE program is invalid," said Robert Mullins, attorney for Thompson Wrecking. "It levels the playing field for everyone."

No matter which side you are on, the decision will affect the way the city does business for now.

Judge Edenfield ruled for a second time that the DBE must shut down its operations until further notice after finding what he says is an error that went unchecked for too long. The judge added that government favoring one race over another is too often perpetuated by evil motives and prohibited by the constitutions equal protection clause.

"Basically the city was giving preferences based on race, and that today constitutes reverse discrimination," Mullins said.

Augusta's DBE program was created based on a 1994 study that found a large gap between minority vendors and other vendors. That 13 year old study was still being used by the DBE as its source for awarding minority contracts.

The judge said it would be impossible for Augusta to argue that 13 years later, racial discrimination is still rampant enough in business for the city to use it as a factor when deciding to award contracts.

This case demonstrates the need for unvarying vigilance against the arrogance of error too long unexamined. Government favoritism for one race over another, long borne of and too often perpetuated by evil motives, is rightly prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.

It would be impossible for Augusta to argue that, 13 years after last studying the issue, racial discrimination is so rampant in the Augusta contracting industry that the City must affirmatively act to avoid being complicit.

Judge B. Avant Edenfield

Kendrick, who was part of the committee that founded the DBE, did not agree with what the judge had to say.

"Those of us who are out here working every day know that it is more than impossible. It is very likely that it happens, and to say that it doesn't happen or is impossible is to me very sad," Kendrick said.

Earl Tompkins, chairman of the Citizen's Small Business Advisory Board, told News 12 the board will recommend to commissioners that race be eliminated in considering a company's bid. However, he also said he believes the DBE is still the best way for small businesses to get those city contracts.

The DBE isn't necessarily going away. It's only suspended for now. We'll have to wait and see if the judge will shut it down completely. If that happens, the DBE can appeal.

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Also online, you can submit bids, as well as see designs, and get the rules for doing business with the city. Just click here.

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