A rush to judgment about Howard County's commitment to creating opportunities for firms owned by women, minorities and the disabled, like this week's resignation of Robert S. Ardinger from the Equal Business Opportunity Commission, would be a mistake. Unfortunately, Mr. Ardinger appears to have reacted more out of anger than reason when he quit the commission, calling its work a waste of time.
What led to the resignation was Mr. Ardinger's frustration over being denied a county contract for his services. Mr. Ardinger, the disabled owner of a fair-housing training and consulting firm, had placed a bid on the contract but was turned down in June. What Mr. Ardinger may have failed to realize is that the firm that won the contract is owned by a woman and submitted a lower bid than his company did.
Yet Mr. Ardinger's ire is not entirely unjustified. The county's record of awarding contracts to minorities, particularly the disabled, is close to dismal. Only 7.7 percent of the $44 million awarded by the county in 1994 went to firms owned by women, minorities or the disabled. Only one contract went to disabled bidders. That is a record that desperately needs changing.
The Equal Business Opportunity Commission was established eight months ago to assist the county in moving in the right direction. The fact that so little progress has been made is unfortunate. All the more reason for Mr. Ardinger not to allow his personal situation to dictate his actions. His perspective, not to mention his obvious passion for effecting change, is what the commission needs. He can do more on the panel than off to pressure county officials into a more aggressive approach.
Mr. Ardinger should at least consider the county's explanations and reconsider his resignation. He may have an argument that the insistence on the lowest bid may penalize firms owned by the disabled. But that would be a problem that stems from the county's laws on awarding contracts, and is not easily remedied.
The county must strive to meet its goal of awarding 14 percent of all contracts to firms owned by women, minorities and the disabled. This can be done with input from people who can articulate minority perspectives in a forceful and persistent manner -- people like Mr. Ardinger.