Members of the Equal Business Opportunity Commission got a mixed reception from Howard County officials Monday after telling them that the county doesn't award enough contracts to businesses owned by blacks, women and people with disabilities.
Howard County Council member Darrel E. Drown, a Republican from the Ellicott City-Elkridge area, warned members of the commission that their push for more minority contracting would lead to quotas.
Clayborne E. Chavers, vice chairman of the 2-year-old commission, bristled at the suggestion.
"Historically, the quotas have been [for] white businesses," he said at the meeting with council members.
Mr. Chavers went on to say that quotas are used only as remedies when a jurisdiction has been shown to have practiced discrimination.
If, for example, it can be shown that discrimination has kept minorities from receiving 20 percent of contract work, then the minorities should, by policy, receive 20 percent of the work, he said later.
However, the commission does not have specific figures on the county's level of minority contracting.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Chavers had met with County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Deputy Chief Administrator Cecil Bray, who also serves as the county's Equal Business Opportunity officer.
"Howard County has a very highly educated population, a very highly sophisticated population," Mr. Chavers said later. That may lead some to think that the county has no problem with finding a proper level of minority contracting, he said.
Mr. Bray said after the meeting that "the county has admitted that we can do much better."
He added that the county executive has committed $50,000 so that the commission can hire a consultant to study the percentage of contracts that go to minorities and what can be done if those proportions are less than their proportions of the population.
Mr. Bray said a similar study in Baltimore County cost $200,000 and that the commission might need to ask the County Council for more money.
Mr. Ecker said the Equal Business Opportunity Commission will study ways to avoid legal conflicts.
For example, the county will abolish requirements that certain vendors have 50-item catalogs, a move that will help small businesses.
"I don't view it as quotas," he said.