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County Council Passes Minority Participation Bills; Dooley Promises Rare Veto

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

After weeks of acrimonious debate, the St. Louis County Council gave final approval to three bills on Tuesday aimed at broadening minority participation for county contracts. 

But St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said he will veto one of the bills, contending that a provision prompting certain contractors to have apprenticeship programs would shut out minorities and women.

Two of the bills sponsored by Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, would set minority, female and county resident workforce goals for county contracts. The other bill would set up the Office of Diversity Programs, which among other things, would make sure the county is following through on the goals. 

O’Mara’s two bills were alternatives of sorts to bills Hazel Erby, D-University Ciy, put forward earlier this year. They had similarities, but one of O’Mara’s bills would require contractors with contracts of at least $25,000 to have apprenticeship training programs. The bills that passed on Tuesday would likely supersede an executive order signed by Dooley in June.

Both Dooley and Erby have argued that apprenticeship training -- which is done primarily  by unions -- is too expensive for some minority and female businesses. They said having a low apprenticeship training threshold puts minority and female businesses at a disadvantage when bidding for work.

Citing that provision, Dooley said he would veto one of O’Mara’s bills. Dooley said he doesn’t remember the last time he used his veto power to strike down the council’s legislation.

“It’s not inclusion when it only has a $25,000 ceiling. That’s not inclusive. That’s just the opposite,” Dooley said. “And that’s the misleading thing about that ordinance is that women, small businesses that are minority cannot participate with a ceiling of $25,000. That’s unacceptable.”

One of the reasons Dooley hasn’t vetoed bills recently is that they often pass with a veto-proof tally. The bill in question passed with five votes, which is enough to override Dooley.

Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, voted for all three of the minority participation bills. Stenger — who is running against Dooley for county executive — said he disagreed with Dooley’s contention that requiring apprenticeship programs would shut minorities and women out. 

Steve Stenger
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio (file photo)
Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton

He added the programs “actually ensure minority and women participation in the workforce.

“If you talk to labor unions across the board, what they will tell you is the apprenticeship programs are really the opening door — the door that opens — for minorities in the trades. So they start out as apprentices and move up,” Stenger said. “And that’s what we want to see.”

When asked if there would be an attempt to override Dooley’s veto, Stenger said “It will be up to the council then to decide whether or not it would want to override the veto.”

The council has had terse -- and often hostile -- exchanges over the minority inclusion issue. This week's meeting was relatively calm by comparison, although Erby expressed her disapproval of O'Mara's bill during a roll call vote.

“We had a bill that was inclusive, that gave an opportunity for small businesses, women, minorities to participate,” Erby said. “This bill does not.”

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