Panel member resigns


A member of Howard County's 8-month-old Equal Business Opportunity Commission has resigned, saying the county is not serious about opportunities for women, minorities and disabled business owners.

"We're just wasting the county taxpayers' money," said Robert S. Ardinger, who resigned Friday. "The commission really has done very little."

Mr. Ardinger, who is disabled in both legs and the owner of a fair housing training and consulting firm, said he quit after receiving a June 30 notice that his company had not been awarded a contract to perform a fair housing project for the county, a project that he had proposed.

He said he has a meeting with the county officials Thursday to discuss why his company was not awarded the contract.

The loss of that contract, he said, is another example of the county failing to offer opportunities to the disabled.

In his two-page resignation, he criticized the county, saying that "to my knowledge, businesses owned by persons with disabilities have had no contracts awarded to them by Howard County."

Cecil Bray, the county's minority business equal opportunity officer, said county officials are trying to increase opportunities for women, minorities and disabled business owners, who received 7.7 percent of the $44.4 million in contractual work during 1994 -- the first year the county looked at its distribution of minority contracts.

Mr. Bray said that among those receiving county government contracts was at least one business owned by a disabled person, called Accessibility Inc.

The county wants to reach about 14 percent participation in county contracts from businesses owned by women, minorities and disabled people, he said.

He said he would like Mr. Ardinger stay on the commission to help Howard County reach that goal.

"I can understand his frustration," said Mr. Bray, who also is the commission's executive secretary. "But I would like to see him stay and kind of take us to task. We need people like him."

Because the commission is less than a year old, Mr. Bray said it would take time for the panel to have significant impact on county policy.

Commissioners are studying how the county has awarded contracts and how women, minorities and disabled business owners might receive a larger share of county contracts, he said.

The commission's charge is to certify a businesses as being owned by women, minorities and the disabled; investigate complaints about discrimination against minority-owned businesses; and make recommendations to the county executive and the County Council.

Mr. Ardinger said he doesn't regard the commission as an entity that will be able to effect much change.

He said the problem is the attitude of the government toward women, minorities and the disabled.

"I've been on commissions before," Mr. Ardinger said. "It's just simply a waste of time."

In his resignation, Mr. Ardinger told the commission chairman that "When I agreed to take the position, I told the County Council that I would not remain on the commission if I felt that the county was not serious in promoting business opportunities for minority and disadvantaged business."

After he received the notice that his business was not awarded the fair housing contract, he said in a subsequent interview that "This last rejection of using me and taking it to a firm outside the county was the last straw."

Mr. Ardinger said he repeatedly has applied for contracts with the county during the 10 years he has operated his Howard County business and has been turned down during the bidding process.

Raquel Sanudo, the county's chief administrative officer, said she is investigating why Mr. Ardinger was rejected for the contract as part of a standard procedure when there is a complaint about the bidding process.

"We usually look for the lowest bid," Ms. Sanudo said. "When individuals contest a bid or the fact that they didn't get a particular bid, generally speaking it's because they bid higher."

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