PolitiFact: Statement on stadium, minority businesses short on info

This article was edited for length. To see a complete version and its sources, go to www.politifact.com/georgia/.

“What concerns me is there is only two sentences that have been written about minority business.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort, talking about the proposed Falcons stadium in a Georgia Senate Twitter post, Feb. 5

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The Atlanta Falcons may not have made it to the Super Bowl this year. But their future is potentially brighter than ever. Team owner Arthur Blank* is pushing for a new $1 billion retractable-roof stadium to be built in downtown Atlanta in time for the 2017 NFL season.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority — which owns the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons currently play, and would own the new stadium — agreed to a framework for a deal in a nonbinding term sheet. That term sheet will provide the foundation for more negotiations on any binding agreement between the GWCCA and the Falcons.

Left to be decided is who pays for the project. The latest funding plan has the Falcons contributing most of the money for construction, along with an upfront public contribution of $200 million paid through bonds issued by Atlanta’s economic development agency.

While those negotiations continue, state Sen. Vincent Fort , D-Atlanta, questioned another part of the project: minority business participation. “What concerns me is there is only two sentences (in the term sheet) that have been written about minority business,” Fort said in a Twitter post earlier this month.

We wondered whether Fort’s comment about the 24-page document is correct and what this meant for the project.

On page five of the term sheet under a category titled “Additional Considerations,” the first of four bulleted items addresses minority businesses.

“The Falcons and GWCCA will adopt a M/WBE participation program to be included in design and construction contract requirements pursuant to all applicable and/or customary governmental M/WBE requirements or guidelines.”

The one-sentence item is three lines long, so Fort is mostly correct on the simple logistics of the statement. But he appears to have a larger concern.

The federal government requires state and local governments to implement the federal disadvantaged business enterprise program if they receive federal money for transportation projects. The program is meant to level the playing field for businesses that are disadvantaged because of income or other factors when competing for federal dollars. Many state and local governments have similar programs in sectors outside transportation, and they set goals for contracts awarded to those businesses.

PolitiFact Georgia submitted questions to the GWCCA about disadvantaged business participation in the stadium project. In a detailed response, the authority’s chief operating officer said that records on that information did not exist.

But the details are almost sure to be outlined in the final contract before any work is done, said Lloyd Atkins, a consultant in the minority business development office of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center.

Some members of the Atlanta City Council lobbied this week for about 30 percent of the stadium work to be completed by minority contractors. Falcons executives said there will be an “equal opportunity employment commitment” at every stage of the project.

Although the term sheet is one very early step in the process, Fort said the brevity of the statement did not bode well for minority businesses. “In a state with such a sorry history of using African-American vendors, I was not comfortable with ‘a wink-and-a-nod, trust me approach,’ ” Fort said.

Fort pointed to last year’s audit of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s disadvantaged business enterprise program. That audit found that the state agency had fallen below its targets for awarding contracts to minority and/or women-owned businesses. Between 2009 and June 2011, the Transportation Department awarded eligible firms owned by African-Americans just 2.4 percent of its contracts even though those firms make up 14.1 percent of all companies available for construction and engineering work.

After the audit, the DOT increased its existing targets for awarding contracts to minority and women-owned disadvantaged firms.

Fort said the current term sheet that lays out nonbinding terms approved for the new stadium contains only two lines dealing with minority business participation. He uses this brief mention as a reason to be leery of the state’s promise to carry out minority participation promises.

A simple look at the term sheet shows that Fort’s statement is correct. But the explanation doesn’t stop there. Already City Council members are pushing for specific minority business participation goals, and whatever goals are set are likely to be included in the final contract before any construction work has begun. Because the details are not yet complete, it is impossible to make inferences on what the goals would be.

Fort’s statement is partially accurate but needs a lot additional information.

We rate his statement Half True.

*Arthur Blank is on the board of directors of Cox Enterprises, whose media holdings include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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(Update: Those pesky, yet observant, PolitiFact Georgia readers. Several took note of Wednesday’s fact check of state Sen. Bill Jackson. We looked at this precise statement: “More murders were committed last year with hammers than with shotguns, rifles or AK-47s.” That statement, which appeared in news stories, is accurate, according to FBI homicide statistics. Trouble is, there is a video of Jackson’s statement. And in that video he uses the word “pistols” instead of “rifles.” That changes the entire thrust of his statement. We called the reporter who wrote the initial news story. He checked his notes and agrees he got the quote wrong. Our readers were correct. And Jackson moves to the other end of the AJC Truth-O-Meter. See the revised fact check here: www.politifact.com/georgia/.)

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