Last Spring, Andrew Colas took the reins at the Oregon branch of the National Association of Minority Contractors. At the same time, former board president Maurice Rahming and longtime advocate Faye Burch, who had just been re- elected to the board, decided to resign.
Many NAMCO members and those who have worked with the organization are asking what happened and why.
The resignations happened just after the new board had been elected by the members. Once elected, the board elects its officers. Rahming and others suggested Burch for the position. A co-founder of the local branch, Burch had never sought a formal leadership role. But this time, she agreed.
A vote was taken and Burch was elected in a 4-3 split. But, after a heated discussion –described as "hair-raising," in an off the record comment by a non-board member who was at the meeting–-the board decided to hold a special meeting to elect officers.
At the next meeting, one of the board members who had voted for Burch switched sides, and ultimately, the board decided to go forward with Andrew Colas as president. Burch and Rahming resigned. Read our profile of Andrew Colas
James Posey, also a co-founder of NAMCO argues that consultants are peripheral to NAMCO's mission.
"I believe the organization should be run by contractors, not by consultants," said James Posey , who led the opposition to Burch's nomination. "She took offense to that."
Both Burch and Posey know the minority contracting landscape better than most. But they have played different roles as advocates. As a consultant Burch works on projects from the design stage forward, often for years before construction begins.
She recommends contractors based on their capacity, bonding and interest in different types of work, she says. And as an advocate, she often helps link NAMCO members to projects in which she has zero financial interest.
"I don't believe we are successful unless everyone is working," she says.
Posey too has been a vocal, but more controversial advocate, opposing for example, the prevailing wage law that requires all contractors to provide union wages and benefits on public projects. Posey recently retired his trucking firm Workhorse Construction.
Burch, Rahming and Colas say they don't want to go on record about the leadership disagreement.
But Burch admits she was blindsided at Posey's opposition, and hurt at the suggestion that she is not an equal member of NAMCO, after spending many years championing minority contractors.
After resigning, Burch says she received emails from more than 30 supporters, praising her work for the organization. Several said they were considering resigning from NAMCO. Some asked for their membership fees to be returned.
Over the years, Burch has secured millions of dollars of business for Portland's minority contractors, who line up to praise her.
Take Nathaniel Hartley, a contractor who specializes in plasterwork.
"Both Faye and Maurice have helped my company tremendously," Hartley told The Skanner. "I received two major projects because of the work they did."
Hartley credits the pair for helping him win a contract to plaster 20 of 28 floors on the Ardaa, a 31-storey development on Portland's South Waterfront, managed by Hoffman construction. He also worked on the Port of Portland offices at the airport.
"I plastered six floors of the parking structure," he says. "That was a big development for me."
Hartley says he has benefited from free classes Rahming offers contractors.
"He will sit down and teach you whatever you need to know," he says. "Using the computer to improve your estimates, job costing and blueprint reading; how to understand contracts: a lot of people go to that class for free.
"And Faye works tirelessly, relentlessly to build business for contractors. She's one of the main reasons for NAMCO's success."
Evan Williams of Tri Star Flagging and SBG Construction, emailed The Skanner with a letter of support for Burch and Rahming.
"Faye and Maurice have taken time out of their day to go with me into meetings …," he wrote. "I cannot emphasize strongly enough how her support and encouragement has been what we needed to get past some very trying times and has helped us keep our doors open. In fact, our largest project to date has been due to Faye Burch working to get us that contract.
"I have personally witnessed on many occasions Faye and Maurice spend a great amount of time and energy and take on many battles for NAMC and all of its members to further the interest of and the support to us all. They have worked behind the scenes in an amazing way to get work for NAMC members and work that did not directly benefit them."
Vicqui Guevara, a former board officer, and owner of the nursery and landscaping firm, Valley Growers, says she spent three months as NAMCO president. The volunteer job consumed 30 percent of her time, she says.
"I'm so sorry all this is happening," she told The Skanner. "Maurice and Faye have unselfishly given to this organization. Faye has been a very good advocate for me. She's the brains of the organization. She's untiring and dedicated. I've known her work through the night to help people."
Guevara says she hopes NAMCO members will give Colas a chance. It's important that NAMCO continue to succeed, she says, because minority contractors need those opportunities to show they can do excellent work and compete at the highest level.
"Our members need a chance to build their capacity," she says. "We can do the job; we have the manpower, we're bondable and we have integrity. We are competitive."
Despite the controversy, Colas has nothing but praise for both Burch and Posey. They both deserve a lot of credit for their work over the years, he says.
"Faye's been a tireless advocate for the organization. She did a lot of things that opened my eyes to the disparities that exist. As a young person coming into this industry I definitely appreciate the work of all the people who have come before me."
Maurice Rahming says in recent years minority contractors have made progress, citing projects such as the Gresham Courthouse, the Sellwood Bridge and TriMet light rail construction .
And Rahming says a community benefits agreement that NAMCO forged with former Mayor Sam Adams has brought opportunities with the City of Portland. Under the agreement, minority contractors and other disadvantaged groups gained priority for two city projects: work on Kelly Butte and maintenance work for the Water Bureau.
Comparing it to figures in the city's 2011 disparity study, Rahming says:
"This project has seen African American contractors share of the work increase by 1100 percent. I can show you the numbers. You have contractors that have never been able to work for the city, working for the city."
Rahming continues to serve as vice president of the national organization and Faye Burch remains on the national board.
Current board members of the local branch of the National Association of Minority Contractors are: Andrew Colas, president of Colas Construction; Alando Simpson, vice-president of City of Roses Disposal & Recycling; Brandon Flint, project manager at Inline Commercial Contractors; Seyon Belai, owner of Zana Construction; James Posey, founder of the trucking company Workhorse Construction; Rosa Martinez, president of abatement company, PMG; and Jeff Moreland, owner of Raimore Construction.