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Front Page » Top Stories » Commission Oks County Incentives To Attract Firms

Commission Oks County Incentives To Attract Firms

Written by on August 3, 2000

By Jennifer Miller
A debate on awarding million-dollar contracts to minority firms has prompted the Miami-Dade County Commission to authorize a formal review of the county’s bidding process.

Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday for a countywide disparities study by the county’s inspector general that would probe whether double standards come into play when the county manager recommends businesses for lucrative deals.

The report is due to the commission Sept. 7.

The study halted once again a two-year effort to assign a $4.5 million baggage-wrap service deal at Miami International Airport — a delay officials say costs the county $3,000 a day.

County staffers initially planned to give out a single three-year contract to handle all baggage wrapping to a company that had scored the most evaluation points during bid-assessment hearings. But lobbyists argued other firms should be allowed a chance to handle the service in at least one of three designated zones at the airport.

After heated debate and a provisional ordinance, representatives agreed to grant a Black Business Enterprise firm responsibility for one of the zones.

Secure Wrap of Miami Inc. — an Hispanic-owned company that had been awarded the most points — was asked to cut Safe Bag of Florida, a black-owned firm with the next highest points, a third share of the contract.

All seemed ready for approval until County Manager Merrett Stierheim told commissioners he received a memo highlighting improper service by S&C Construction at the county’s water and sewer department. S&C, which he said had run up a $1.29 million bill, is owned by Clarence Smith, who also runs Safe Bag of Florida.

Mr. Stierheim said he had "serious reservations about doing further business with any company whose principal, operating as the principal of another company, did not perform in accordance with published contract specifications."

But his stance triggered a flurry of accusations.

"The county manager led a witch hunt and my client was falsely accused," said Robert Holland, a lobbyist for Mr. Smith. "His decision holds back African-Americans and is another public lynching, without the facts, that taints my client. This is a game to run him out of business."

Mr. Stierheim said rejecting Safe Bag had nothing to do with race.

"If this man is not being convicted," Commissioner Dorrin Rolle said, "I don’t think we ought to hold him accountable forever and a day. If we’re going to chop someone’s neck off, I’d like to see it across the board.

"Most of the time when the hatchet falls," said Mr. Rolle, an African-American, "it falls on folks who look like me."

"I have a serious problem," Mr. Stierheim said, "with the implication of a double standard. As far as I’m concerned we do the process fairly. It’s not just selective enforcement."

Commissioner Jimmy Morales, who initiated the motion for the disparities study, said "these are things we’ve all heard about in whispers, but yet are concerns in the community.

"We need to look at how minority businesses are treated in this city," Mr. Morales said. "It may cost us $3,000 a day, but we’re not ready to make a decision."

Commissioner Dennis Moss said there is a huge problem in the community that goes beyond the baggage-wrapping contract.

"It seems people here award contracts to minorities because they are forced to do it," he said. "The private sector doesn’t do it. We should find out what happens outside the county with African-American businesses."

"The credibility of some people is in jeopardy because of a lot of innuendos," Commissioner Pedro Reboredo said. "We don’t want to make the process more cloudy."

Until the contract is awarded, three firms hired temporarily for the job will continue to handle baggage wrapping at the airport.

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