ATLANTA -- Officials in Palm Beach County, Fla., have taken an unusual step to ensure that women- and minority-owned firms have a place in underwriting the county's upcoming $50 million general obligation bond issue -- they have decided to break with their tradition of selling GOs competitively and arranged instead for a negotiated sale.

County Commissioner Carol Roberts yesterday said the commission voted last Tuesday by a 6-to-1 margin to sell through negotiation the first of two planned GO bond issues to fund the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands. She said the commission deviated from its long-standing policy of directing that GO bonds be sold competitively in order to encourage firms that it felt have been traditionally left out of the municipal bond market.

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