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CA board adopts minority-business purchasing goal

The Columbia Association wants to make more purchases from businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled people.

However, at least one elected official from Columbia says the CA's new minority business policy is flawed.

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The CA board voted April 26 to set a goal of spending 10 percent of its procurement money on minority-owned businesses.

That proportion has been about 5 percent, board members said.

The new policy, board member Suzanne Waller of Town Center said, sends a message that, "We are paying attention to minorities. They deserve a seat at the table."

Under the new policy, minority-owned businesses will get preference when the cost, quality and service they offer are equal to what other businesses would provide, board member Michael Cornell of River Hill said.

The policy will be in effect for the next two years, a "sunset provision" that will allow the board to evaluate the policy's effectiveness down the line.

But that provision has rankled state Del. Frank Turner, a Columbia Democrat who had spoken with CA in the past about adopting a minority business policy.

"I was willing to compromise with them," Turner said. "I set the goal at a very low 10 percent, which I really wanted to set higher, because the county's at 15 percent and the state is at 25 percent."

The sunset provision, he said, "is just like saying they really don't want to have a policy. They can revisit the policy, make changes and adjustments in the policy without sunsetting it."

Turner said he planned to talk to other state lawmakers from Howard County, as well as U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, about getting CA to remove the sunset provision.

Cornell countered that the sunset provision was included for good reason.

"The rationale was let's come back and look at this in two years, and maybe 10 percent isn't high enough," Cornell said. "We don't want to leave it open-ended, so it just stays at 10 percent and we forget about it."

The CA board vote on the policy was 8-2, with Tom Coale of Dorsey's Search and Gregg Schwind of Hickory Ridge voting against it.

"I certainly support the hiring and use of minority-, women- and disabled-owned businesses. My concern is that by making these targets, we're losing the overall goal of equality that Columbia tends to try to follow," Coale said. "By targeting groups, we start looking at people as their groups instead of that race-neutral or gender-neutral way that people aspire to."

The board also affirmed a policy to support area businesses.

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"When you buy local, more of that money stays in the local economy," Cornell said.

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