The City of St. Louis failed to employ a fair amount of minority- and women-owned businesses when awarding city contracts for construction jobs from 2007 to 2012, according to a disparity study released Tuesday (April 28) at the St. Louis Development Corporation office.

The firm Mason Tillman Associates, who conducted the study, specifically found a disparity in how the city awards construction contracts to African-American businesses, both as prime contractors and subcontractors.

It also showed that black businesses earn a small portion of the city’s contracts overall, including for goods and services. During the five-year period, black businesses received 6.43 percent of all prime contract dollars, or $30.4 million. However, businesses owned by non-minority males garnered almost 90 percent of the prime contracts, or $424 million.

In fact, 44 vendors received 70 percent of all prime contract dollars, or $332 million, even though the city awarded contracts to 969 vendors during that time. In her presentation of the study, firm president Eleanor Mason Ramsey said that this was typical among cities. They often develop relationships with a small group of vendors and award them large contracts year after year. Ramsey strongly urged the city to change this practice.

“That’s the pattern,” she said, “and we will look at some recommendations intended to spread those dollars around so more vendors can see dollars and larger contracts.”

The firm also found that there are enough black subcontractors in the local construction field that they should receive 21.35 percent of the dollar amount of every city construction contract. Women subcontractors should receive 11.25 percent of construction work. These percentages differ from the city’s current minority participation goals on construction contracts, which are 25 percent for minority subs overall – not just African Americans – and five percent for women subs.

The disparity study gives the city the power to actually enforce its minority participation goals. Many local governments and public agencies started conducting disparity studies after the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the City of Richmond’s minority participation program for municipal contracts was unconstitutional, after finding that the city failed to identify a substantial need to level the playing field for minorities and women business owners.

Now if cities want to set penalties for contractors who fail to abide by their minority participation goals, they have to conduct disparity studies to provide this “substantial need” that the court requires. Without a study, contractors can sue the cities for enforcing goals.

The study also gives some arsenal to advocacy groups who have been fighting to ensure that minority construction businesses stay afloat in a white-dominated field.

Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis City NAACP, said now that the firm has calculated the disparity, the city’s projects must comply with the goals outlined in the study. And if city leaders try to waive the minority participation requirements for contractors – as they have in the past, it gives the advocacy groups the ability to use injunctive relief, he said.

“We would basically sue to stop projects to enforce the goals if they are not doing it the way that they are supposed to,” Pruitt said.

Sadly, the study also shows how poorly the minority subcontractors are doing growing their businesses, Pruitt said. The 25 percent minority participation goal was set nearly 20 years ago, and the needle hasn’t moved.

“The prime contractor community has had a monopoly on everything and artificially keeping the minority contract community where it’s at,” Pruitt said. “If they don’t hire you as a sub, you don’t do business. This demonstrates that they have been keeping the growth down.”

Follow this reporter on Twitter @Rebeccarivas.

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(7) comments

REALIST

Tracey,
You stated, "...yes you could have all those things, but if you are not a licensed contractor the city is not going to be stupid enough to give you a contract. Try using common sense." That was exactly my point!!!!!!!!! Also just because a company is a "licensed contractor" and has a few pieces of equipment doesnt make them qualified to do the job in a timely manner or cost effective or quality product.

Tracey

This same mess takes place in Kansas City, The same large contractors get the majority of the jobs and employ very few minorities within that company. That company is J.E. Dunn. They get 70% of contracts through the city. That leaves very little for everyone else. Kansas City has also been known to hire contractors outside of the city and state before hiring minority contractors that are in their city.

Tracey

You all fail to understand that this is a disparity study. Everything is taken into consideration and all facts are in plain sight. When a company bids on a contract it's reported. When they receive a contract or not it's reported. A company would not bid on a job they are not qualified to do. That makes no sense. They have a reputation to uphold for future bids. And to Realist who is obviously not a realist...yes you could have all those things, but if you are not a licensed contractor the city is not going to be stupid enough to give you a contract. Try using common sense.

ogel

Since this reporter states that "St. Louis City failed to award construction jobs to black businesses," it would be good to know what percentage of the bids placed were placed by minority contractors? This information is valuable and certainly relative if one is wanting to provide an objective report. Contracts can not be awarded if they are not bid for, and that may reveal another aspect that can be improved upon.

REALIST

What are the specific jobs that were missed. Just because a contractor bids a job doesnt mean that they are actually quailified. I can have a small asphalt roller a dump truck and a skid steer with a couple guys and shovels but does that mean I can pave roads and large parking lots. Most of these jobs are large projects.

I remember "Cookie" coming into my store renting equipment off of Bircher. Nice guy but not able to complete jobs and he bid for jobs beyond his capability.

dwightbillingsly

the state of minority participation in this city is a shame.

and for accuracy's sake, the supreme court decided that there could be minority participation programs but that the minority must be relevant by size in the community, so that for st louis, only blacks are considered relevant minorities. there are not enough hispanics, asians, etc., in this community for them to qualify for minority programs under croson.

the city has a board of estimate and apportionment, consisting of the comptroller, mayor and president of the board of aldermen. this board approves contracts by custom; the comptroller approves contracts by law. two of the three members of this board are black: darlene green is comptroller and lewis reed is president of the board of aldermen. how can this disparity exist in st louis under these circumstances?

don't these two black elected officials care that black contractors are not being used? that black contractors are not receiving a fair share of the business paid for with black tax dollars? why don't they do something? they have the power. why don't they use it? this disparity could not exist unless these black elected officials tolerated it. why do they?

RogerClegg

Disparity study or not, preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender is unjustified, as a matter of both law and policy.

It's good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or gender. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either--whether it's labeled a "set-aside," a "quota," or a "goal," since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it's almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief (http://www.pacificlegal.org/document.doc?id=454) that explains why, legally, a disparity study doesn't justify preferential treatment. Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

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