by James Coleman —
Memphis City Council members greeted the new leadership of the city’s Office of Business Diversity and Compliance during the Economic Development, Technology and Tourism committee meeting on Tuesday, February 1.
Retired software company founder Marvell Mitchell is the new OBDC head. He is joined by office administrator Zandaria Davidson. The department supports and monitors the awarding of city vendor contracts to minority or women-owned businesses.
Both are African-American.
“Your task is an awesome one,” said Councilmember Cheyenne Johnson. “There’s a lot of moving parts in trying to make small business, minority business an active part of this community. So, I’m looking forward to seeing what type of ideas you may have to change what may be going on.
“The department works, from what I know so far about it,” she continued. “New faces always see it differently, so I am excited to have you both on board.”
Mitchell and Davidson were appointed by Mayor Jim Strickland, who seeks to increase the percentage of contracts awarded to MWBE’s to 24 percent. Mitchell succeeds Joanne Massey, who stepped down in September. Ken Moody, special assistant to Mayor Strickland and a Democratic candidate for Shelby County Mayor, served in the interim.
“We have come a long way under Strickland’s administration in terms of supporting MWBE’s, but we also have to keep in mind where we currently stand,” said Councilmember JB Smiley Jr. “This is a minority-majority city, but when we talk about contracting dollars for MWBE’s we are significantly behind.”
The OBDC was launched in February 2016, when Strickland folded the Memphis Office of Resource and Enterprise (MORE) and Office of Contract Compliance in Stricklands’ first term. At the time, U.S. Census data reflected that less than one percent of local sales receipts found their way to MWBE’s.
“You all have a very difficult task, but a task that I think this council is willing to embrace – the City of Memphis is willing to embrace,” Smiley said. “On the behalf of, I think, the majority of members on this body, we stand willing and ready to support you all’s work, because it’s needed work.”
The new leadership team brings contrasting resumes and work-a-day perspectives to the office.
Mitchell, who came out of retirement for the role, spent his whole career in private business. Prior to leading Mitchell Technology Group for 25 years, he spent the first 20 years of his career at IBM and Digital Equipment Corp.
Davidson, meanwhile, is a 23-year city employee. Most recently, she dealt with contract compliance with the Division of Public Works. She has also served on the board of directors with the American Contract Compliance Association for six years.
“Hopefully we can look at both sides of the fence and try to do everything we can to move the needle as it relates to diversity business,” Mitchell said.
In other developments, the Council unanimously approved an item in its second reading that would increase payment options for drivers to have their vehicle released after being towed.
Currently, some tow-truck companies only accept cash payments. If it passes on its third reading it would require wreckers to accept credit cards, debit cards and other forms of cashless payment. The next vote on the item, sponsored by Smiley, is scheduled for February 15.