New Old Hands at Smbr

As the latest director of the Dept. of Small and Minority Business Resources, Tim Warren faces a daunting challenge. Commanding a budget of less than a million dollars and a staff of 13, he must oversee minority certification and compliance issues for city contracts totalling hundreds of millions of dollars (the City of Austin spent over $230 million on construction alone last year). Following the traditional division of labor at SMBR, along with overseeing the entire effort, Warren is personally in charge of certifying new small and minority businesses and recertifying old ones.

Despite his relative youth at 36, Warren brings ample experience to the job. He worked for the original Office of Minority Business Affairs from its inception in 1987 until 1992, when he left to spend three years in the private sector working for the MCI telephone concern. He returned to the city last year and worked on minority procurement at the new airport before taking over SMBR in July.

Moreover, he's hired a ringer: Electric Utility Department SMBR liaison Jan Lawson, who will be his new assistant director in charge of training, development, and contract compliance. As research progressed on this story, Lawson's name came up again and again as one of the most able and least compromised of all procurement bureaucrats. Confidential sources all believed that the erroneous granting of 900 codes to Kirkwood & Hunter would not have happened had Lawson been at SMBR proper rather than at EUD. (Lawson will continue performing her EUD duties, presumably delegating some tasks.)

Warren acknowledges that stories of cynicism and behind-the-scenes manipulation regarding the bidding and letting of city contracts to minority businesses are standard fare in city circles, but he insists that his experiences have been positive, and says that his recent return to the city fold has pointed up positive changes that occurred during the three years he was gone.

"The city has rejected bids and proposals from some folks since I've been back. I couldn't believe that the city had rejected someone's bid or proposal because they didn't comply with the [minority procurement] program. When this office was first established, and then working in the office for a long time, that never happened. You never thought it would happen. You never thought you'd live to have grandchildren see it happen. I can't do anything but comment on the positive support I've received from the city manager and the financial services director."

Warren also stresses that his reporting relation-ship with his city bosses allows him to go directly to the city manager, despite his department's status as a subset of Financial Services.

While acknowledging that high turnover in the SMBR director's job is a problem, Warren offered only indirect commentary on the lack of continuity which critics say has hobbled the program for years.

"The historicals clearly show we've had turnover. Hopefully I will bring the right ingredients, the right vision, the right ideas to bring some stability. I say hopefully. We've had a lot of folks turn over in this position. You look at other cities, and there would be programs where they've had maybe two people in the last 10 years. I definitely plan to stay."

-- C.W.

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