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What’s Next as Water Works Ends $25,000 Monthly Contract With Minority Business Advocates


By Joseph D. Bryant | jbryant@al.com

The Birmingham Water Works Board this week cut ties with an agency tapped to improve the number of minority construction firms hired by the utility.

The board Wednesday voted to end its $25,000 month-to-month contract with the Birmingham Construction Industry Authority (BCIA).

The BCIA contract over the years has grown from $5,000 a month to its current $25,000 a month, said water works general manager Michael Johnson. Johnson said the agency will open the services for bids in mid January.

“We need to make sure the scope is being delivered on and we’re getting the best value for it,” he said.

Created in 1990, BCIA tracks construction projects, certifies Black and women-owned contractors as minority business enterprises or disadvantaged business enterprises, advocates for their inclusion in projects as either general contractors or subcontractors.

While praising the work of BCIA, board chairman Tereshia Huffman said the water works wants to expand the scope of minority business efforts beyond construction.

“I’m pleased with the work that BCIA has done, and it is necessary,” she said. “There are opportunities for Black and minorities to get work all across the Birmingham Water Works utility.”

Still, Huffman said the water works would seek to increase its outreach. She invited BCIA to reapply for the new position and even asked its executive director for his assistance as the water works seeks to better understand what has worked and what has not.

Board member George Munchus was the lone no vote while Lucien Blankenship abstained.

“It seems to me that somebody internally is trying to sabotage the BCIA,” Munchus said. “I might just vote ‘hell no.’”

Munchus argued that it was illogical for water works leaders to praise the agency, then at the same time move for its dissociation.

BCIA executive director Michael Bell, brother of former Birmingham Mayor William Bell, said the vote to end the contract came as a surprise.

“We are certainly disappointed by the action taken today and we were caught by surprise by the action, but we respect the water work’s right to contract with who they want to contract with and whatever decisions they make,” Bell told AL.com Wednesday evening. “However we wish we had been given the opportunity to address any concerns they might have had. We are left with a lot of questions as to why this action was taken.”

Bell said BCIA would have been open to expanding its services with the water works if asked.

Several speakers spoke before the vote, urging the board to reconsider the proposal to scrap its association with BCIA.

William Mohammed, an activist and former water board member, offered terse words for his former colleagues, blasting them for the proposal and for not communicating with BCIA before placing it on the agenda.

“The Birmingham Water Works Board has declared war on the Black community,” Mohammed said, listing several other moves that he said were damaging to Black businesses.

Other business owners told the board that BCIA had helped them stay informed of business opportunities and how to apply for contracts.

“Because of the efforts of BCIA we have been part of a productive Black contractors business,” said Pat Sigers, a business owner and president of the newly formed Black Contractors Association. “We’re willing to meet the standards, but we are saying be fair with us. We’re not asking for favors, but we do deserve respect.”

Johnson said the water works will select a new company by late March or early April.