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St. Louis County Council Shelves Minority Participation Bill

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio (file photo)

St. Louis County Council members shelved bills aimed at broadening minority and female participation in county contracts. 

At issue were bills sponsored by Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City. Among other things, the bills would would set up hiring guidelines for minority and female workers on construction projects of $1 million or more. It also would have set up similar workforce goals for county procurement contracts.

Erby’s bills were vigorously debated last week. Some council members —including Councilmen Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, and Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights — tried to change the bills to require certain contractors to go through apprenticeship training. 

When Erby’s bills came up again Tuesday, she announced that she would delay considering them until she talked to other members of the council.

“I’m reluctant. And I’ll be honest about it because I’ve asked for input before and I didn’t get it. But I will go ahead and hold them,” Erby said. “This has got to be done. It’s a necessity.”

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley has been a strong supporter of Erby’s bills. He said after Tuesday’s meeting he would talk with council members before next week’s meeting to find a way forward.

Asked if it was possible to find consensus on the issue, Dooley said, “Anything is possible in America.” 

“I think the council needs to look back as a community. Let’s talk about it. Let’s not talk at each other. Let’s talk to each other,” Dooley said. “We’re going to get together next week before the next meeting and see if we can work out some of our differences.”

For his part, O’Mara said that apprenticeship training is vital when undertaking taxpayer-funded projects. He introduced his own versions of the minority participation bills that could receive consideration next week.

“Last week we had a demolition contractor shut down in Lemay for improperly disposing of asbestos throughout the neighborhood,” O’Mara said. “And they shut them down. All because [they had] no proper training.”

Before Erby decided to hold the bills, some leaders of predominantly black municipalities spoke in favor of keeping Erby’s legislation intact. 

Shonte Young — the president of Moline Acres Board of Aldermen — said it was a “crying shame” we “still have to even ponder legislation that will give minorities and women the same opportunities afforded to white males.” And Greendale Mayor Monica Huddleston echoed Dooley and Erby’s concerns that an apprenticeship requirement would be a barrier to minority and female contractors.

“An apprenticeship requirement have typically been limiting and limited. That is not good for people who look like me — women and minority businesses,” Huddleston said. “And I think you all know that. You can tell from your own numbers what those things are. And when you do your disparity study, you will see that.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.