A snag developed Monday in the Shelby County Commission's twin initiatives to increase the number of county contracts with locally owned small businesses (LOSB, in governmental shorthand) and with those owned by women or minority entrepreneurs (MWBE, for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises).
A single contract dispute threatens both well-intentioned objectives. It involves the question of switching the management of some 65 people employed as security in courtrooms and other official county offices. These officials, who screen members of the public entering county facilities and perform other kinds of backup duty for the Sheriff's Department, are currently working under the aegis of Allied Universal Security Services, a company with offices throughout the United States but headquartered either in California or in Pennsylvania — depending on varying accounts adduced by commissioners during Monday's extended debate.
Responding to the aforesaid commission initiatives to achieve more diversity on the awarding of county contracts, a local company, Clarion Security, which is owned by a woman, aligned itself with four minority-owned partners and bid against Allied for the county security contract. As it happened, Allied had already been recontracted for the service, but in the wake of the new LOSB and MWBE criteria adopted after a commission-adopted disparity study, new criteria were imposed, and the contract had been re-bid.
Clarion was the winner the second time around, but there were objections about the fairness of having a rebidding process from some commissioners, who also harbored doubts as to whether the employees now working for Allied would be rehired by Clarion with the same benefits as before. Principal objectors to the Clarion contract award were Commissioners Terry Roland and Walter Bailey, who, in committee meetings last week as well as in Monday's commission meeting, raised enough uncertainty among their fellow commissioners to secure a narrow 7-6 vote referring the matter back to committee for another round of study and debate.
That will happen Wednesday, and expectations are that the award will ultimately be made to Clarion during the next regular commission meeting on Monday, June 26th, inasmuch as the local company seems to be making a serious and good-faith effort to provide the required assurances.
Maybe so, maybe no. But the whole flap underscores the difficulties inherent in making sweeping changes in long-established governmental procedures. Resolution of the current case will provide a true test case of the commission's ability to do so.
All of us at the Flyer were shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death of our former advertising director, Chris Owens, who was killed in a freak accident on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, Monday. Chris was a warm, funny, wonderful guy who had many friends here at the Flyer and all over Memphis. Our deepest sympathies go to his family and his many friends who loved him. He was taken from us way too soon, and we will miss him.