By Associated Press - Sunday, September 13, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - Thirteen years after a federal judge halted a program that provided preferences to minority- and women-owned businesses for Augusta city contracts, the city is laying groundwork to support its return.

Augusta commissioners voted to pay an Atlanta law firm more than $340,000 to survey businesses and analyze city spending with women and minority businesses over the next two years.

A federal judge in 2007 halted Augusta’s program, saying data from 1994 was too old to justify awarding preferences. New data could allow the city to restart its program.

The city-county government spent $600,000 on a similar study in 2010, but The Augusta Chronicle reports that a conservative-leaning commission didn’t move forward with re-establishing the program.

“We’re going to give you a legal, defensible study and a strong program,” Rodney Strong, one of the lead attorneys of Griffin & Strong, told WJBF-TV.

Several commissioners said they believe a new study, like the one in 2010, will show preferences are justified.

“Most definitely it needs to be done. I mean, what’s been going on around the country and what’s going on around Augusta, we do have disparities here,” Commissioner Marion Williams said. “We haven’t been fair in this government. It’s a lot of money being spent, economic dollars going into this community, but it’s not being shared equally.”

The study will examine the geographical area where 75% of firms getting city contracts are located.

Under a 1989 court ruling, the study will determine “whether an entity has actively or passively participated in present or past discrimination,” and if so, “remedial race-based programs, later gender, would be supported by required strong evidence,” according to Augusta’s agreement with the firm.

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