United Builders and Contractors, a group of African-American-owned construction businesses in Wichita, says it doesn't want preferential treatment from Sedgwick County but is pushing for a resolution that encourages doing business with minority- and woman-owned businesses.
Representatives of the group met Tuesday with county commissioners about their concerns.
Commission Chairman Karl Peterjohn grew frustrated during the meeting and told United administrator Prentice Lewis: "I don't believe in diversity. I believe in the Declaration of Independence."
Peterjohn later said he believes in equal opportunity for all but is a "big opponent of political correctness."
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"I'd like to find a way to help all the small businesses in our county," Peterjohn said.
He said he would support "doing everything we can to create a level playing field."
The county defines a disadvantaged business as one where 51 percent is owned, operated and controlled by minority groups or women.
County Manager William Buchanan said the county's current policy emphasizes awarding the contract to the lowest bidder while the one United wants would emphasize increased opportunities for minority- and woman-owned businesses.
The county cited a 1989 court case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a "set-aside" program in the city of Richmond, Va., requiring contractors to award a percentage of monies to minority subcontractors.
County counselor Michael Pepoon said it was the county's legal opinion that a disparity study would be required to change the county's current practices.
The meeting Tuesday was the second in recent months between United and the county. Commissioner Gwen Welshimer said that as a woman who used to own her own business, "I don't have a problem with equal opportunity and diversity."
Of about $223 million in goods and serviced purchased by the county in 2008, slightly more than 3 percent went to disadvantaged businesses, including those owned by African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, American Indians, people with disabilities, veterans and women, according to purchasing director Iris Baker.
Of that, about $53,131 went to businesses with black owners.
Excluding Intrust Bank Arena, about 5 percent of county contracts for goods and services went to disadvantaged-business owners as defined by the county.