Dooley signs order on minority goals for contracts

County executive’s order establishes diversity office to assist minority firms

By Gloria Lloyd

After the County Council rejected a proposal last week to establish goals for minority participation in county contracts, County Executive Charlie Dooley issued an executive order that makes the bill law anyway — although he said he expects the council to override it soon.

“I fully expect those on the council in opposition to our efforts to take steps to weaken or even strip this order completely — but they will have to explain why they want to continue to disenfranchise minorities and women,” he said at the June 18 signing.

An executive order that overrides pending council legislation is an unprecedented move in the county — one that critics of the executive action said was designed to rally Dooley’s base in north county in advance of the Aug. 5 Democratic primary for county executive.

Dooley faces two primary opponents — 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, and Ronald Levy of Affton.

“Call it what it is — it’s politics,” 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, told the Call. “It makes sense to get people in your camp for an election.”

Dooley signed the executive order into law surrounded by north county mayors, the day after the council rejected two bills sponsored by Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, that were identical to Dooley’s executive order. The council previously rejected Erby’s bill to make Dooley’s diversity office permanent 4-2, with Erby and Stenger voting for it.

Both of Erby’s bills on minority work-force requirements failed last week for lack of a second. The rejection was emblematic of how the council has operated the past month, with Erby, who supports Dooley in the upcoming primary, clashing with the rest of the council, which has aligned with Stenger over Dooley during the past year.

Asked if the council would be able to come together before August 5, Dooley said he believed it could.

“Anything is possible in America,” he told the Call. “St. Louis County is part of America. It’s a great country.”

Like Erby’s proposal, Dooley’s executive order establishes a diversity office that will help minority- and women-owned businesses, or MWBE, “develop into viable, successful businesses” and assist their applications for county contracts.

The bill also suggests that on county contracts over $1 million, 20 percent go to minority-owned businesses and 5 percent go to businesses owned by women. Minorities and women would also make up 15 percent and 5 percent of workers on the projects, respectively. Under the terms of the order, 10 percent of county contracts would go to county residents, and on contracts over $1 million, 15 percent of contract hours would go to apprentices.

The minority requirements apply only to county contracts paid for by taxpayers, not private contracts between citizens. Under the order, “minority” is defined as black, Hispanic or Latino regardless of race, or a descendant of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent or the Pacific Islands, tribal or cultural Native American affiliation or at least one-quarter descent from a Native American group.

Stenger, Dolan and the rest of the council prefer amended bills submitted by 4th District Councilman Michael O’Mara, D-Florissant, which are similar to Erby’s, but call for county contracts worth more than $25,000 to only go to companies with apprenticeship programs, which would largely limit them to union members. Dooley’s executive order calls for apprenticeships on all contracts over $1 million.

Like Dooley, Erby has two primary opponents Aug. 5, but she told the Call she has been pushing for a diversity bill for years. The council went against its usual practices to amend Erby’s bill against her wishes — typically a bill is only amended by its sponsor — and in rejecting it before the final approval stage. At the signing, Dooley said he was “deeply disappointed and offended by the disrespect shown to Councilman Erby … It is embarrassing.”

Although Erby said she held her bills the week before, after O’Mara pledged to work with her on a compromise, she said he failed to tell her he was leaving the next day for a two-week vacation.

For two weeks in a row, 24:1, a coalition of mayors of the 24 cities in the Normandy School District, has attended council meetings to blast council members other than Erby, contending they are against diversity.

“The historic vote of the St. Louis County Council in opposition to a diversity program office in the year 2014 is a step backwards in the cause for equality,” Vinita Park Mayor James McGee said June 17. “Now I was born on a plantation, and it’s a shame that this is 2014 and we’re still fighting for rights. You should be ashamed of yourselves … It reminds me of the plantation.”

The opposition to Erby’s bill is because of the apprenticeship clause and not because of its minority requirements, however, Dolan said.

“I personally don’t like it being suggested that I’m against minority participation, because I’m not,” he told the Call. “And I’m for inclusion and diversity, and it’s kind of made out to seem like we’re not. It’ll all come out and the right thing will be done, that’s the main thing.”

Although Dooley, Erby and the mayors’ coalition contend that the apprenticeship requirement in O’Mara’s bills discriminates against minority workers because unions have historically not selected minorities and women for journeyman programs after they complete apprenticeships, Dolan disagreed, citing his experience in his own union.

He is the president of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268 and a superintendent with United Fire Protection Systems and said 23 percent of his union’s apprenticeship program is comprised of minorities, not including women.

“Some of my brother and sister members (who are minorities) work 40-hour weeks consistently, and I haven’t lately — more power to them,” he told the Call. “I’ve seen that, so it’s not a black-white issue there, it’s just a matter of who’s working for what company.”

In comments to the council last week, Moline Acres Mayor Michele DeShay said that she was once a member of Teamsters Local 688 and saw firsthand how few women and minorities were represented in unions.

“I represent a constituency that may not be a member of a union, yet still have the skills necessary to feed their families. I cannot ignore my fiduciary duty to those who may not have been offered the privilege to be unionized,” she said. “They deserve to be awarded contracts within St. Louis County as taxpaying citizens with legitimate businesses. I owe them the voice that I have … as they try to break the glass ceiling or break down the doors of equality.”

Like the other mayors in the coalition, DeShay reminded the council of the upcoming election, noting, “When we go to the polls on election day, we will take our city with us.”