City debates minority contracts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; A vote to finalize an option agreement with the developer of a convention-grade hotel during Tuesday&8217;s aldermen meeting turned into a discussion about minority participation in city contracts.

City Attorney Walter Brown asked aldermen to authorize Mayor Phillip West to sign the agreement with developer Thomas Bauer.

Under the agreement, Bauer would buy the city-owned lot across Canal Street from the convention center for $524,333 with a down payment of 10 percent. He would also agree that the hotel would have 120 rooms, with a certain number reserved for conventions.

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Brown also asked aldermen to engage law firm Butler Snow and financial adviser Demery Grubbs to arrange the tax incremental financing needed to help fund the project.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis amended that motion to say that minority law firm Northington, Chambers and Gaylor would also work on the deal.

Brown said Bauer, in the agreement, had already agreed to pay a certain amount of attorney&8217;s and consultant&8217;s fees and probably wouldn&8217;t agree to pay an additional firm.

Requiring Bauer to do so, Brown said, might scuttle the deal &8220;after we spent three and a half months to put it together.&8221;

Arceneaux-Mathis and Alderman James &8220;Rickey&8221; Gray expressed concern that minority participation wasn&8217;t sought early in the process of drawing up the contract.

Brown noted that the firms selected, however, were well familiar with TIF financing and were therefore a good choice.

Alderman Theodore &8220;Bubber&8221; West said the city needs to have a clearer policy on minority participation in city contracts.

Arceneaux-Mathis noted she had asked for meaningful minority participation in city contracts seven years ago.

In the end, aldermen voted to adopt the contract as is but direct Brown to ask Bauer to contract with the Northington firm to work on the deal along with the other two firms.

Aldermen also directed Brown to bring a report back to them on other cities&8217; ordinances regarding hiring minority-owned firms to provide goods and services.