Hispanic leaders fear being left behind by St. Louis’ proposed minority contracting bill

By on March 29, 2018

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  Karlos Ramirez fears St. Louis is about to repeat history.

And not in a good way.

The city long known for racial division, particularly in real estate development matters, is poised to pass a bill through the Board of Aldermen that its supporters say will right historical wrongs.

The bill, sponsored by Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, will put into law specific goals that businesses must try to meet when bidding on city building projects and other contracts. For years, the city has promoted minority- and women-owned businesses under a mayoral executive order that sought to give advantage to such companies. But a 2015 disparity study by consultant Mason Tillman Associates said the city was falling woefully short.

A similar study in St. Louis County, by a different consultant, reached similar conclusions.

Now both the city and county are in the process of putting into law minority and women hiring goals. But there is a fundamental difference in their approach.

The city does not. Instead, if the bill passes, it will require contractors to specifically identify if they are African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian.

“First and foremost, when you separate based on race or ethnicity, you are continuing the cycle of segregation and hindering certain minority groups’ participation,” Ramirez, the president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis, wrote the Board of

Aldermen in January. “Even though the purpose is to breakdown the specific discrimination occurring between minority groups, you are automatically eliminating some groups from the conversation altogether based on statistical insignificance.”

At the time, the minority-owned business bill was sponsored by Alderman Terry Kennedy. It would have required 21 percent of all subcontracts on big city building projects to go to African-American owned businesses. The bill made no reference to Hispanic businesses or any other minority.

Ramirez and others complained. The bill went away.

Now it’s back, pushed by Boyd, with Hispanic-owned businesses being required to be 2 percent of every city contract and Asian and Native American businesses at half-a-percent each. Ramirez believes the bill is missing the point. Not only will it discourage Hispanic businesses from seeking city contracts, he says, it will benefit a select few politically connected African-American businesses at the expense of the bill’s goal, which is to build a stronger minority contractor community.

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