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St. Louis alderman aims to reinforce construction contract rules for women, minorities

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, January 2017
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Alderman Jeffrey Boyd represents Ward 22 in St. Louis

St. Louis Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, Ward 22, wants city residents, women and people of color to have a fair shot at city construction contracts.

Boyd and representatives from city contract boards advocated for his proposed measure, BB 270, on Tuesday. It would refine and enforce rules already in place that require contractors to consider women and minorities for work.

Boyd said he wants to treat those groups fairly.

“There are barriers for some contractors to do work with the city of St. Louis. And so, how do we overcome those barriers? We must put systems in place to mitigate certain opportunities for people to game the system,” he told the Legislation Committee, which heard arguments for and against the bill.

The measure calls for contractors to hire subcontractors in line with these proportions:

  • 21 percent African-American
  • 11 percent women
  • 2 percent Hispanic
  • 0.5 percent Asian and Native American

Contractors who don’t fulfill minimum requirements, including proving that they are attempting, in good faith, to hire people of color and women, could be subject to penalties, including paying damages and not being able to get bids for projects for a year.
Related: Current St. Louis bids and requests for proposals

Boyd’s proposal also outlines ways to increase training and certification for minority- and women-owned businesses.

But contractors who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing argued the bill is too restrictive and parts of it did not make logistical sense.

Associated General Contractors of Missouri chair William Wagner said his intent in speaking up against the bill was not to short change minority businesses and workers. He said hiring a diverse workforce actually benefits companies.

However, while Wagner said he agrees with the sentiment of what the measure is striving to achieve, he believes some of the stipulations buck common business practices.

Wagner, and others who opposed the measure, called on committee members to refrain from eliminating a 72-hour period that he said allows contractors to assess bids and talk more with subcontractors about bid details.

Boyd, and others who support the measure, said the waiting period allows contractors to low-ball minority-owned enterprises or back out of preliminary contracts that hire them.

Construction-business owner Brian Murphy told the committee that he believes there should be more efforts to increase the number of eligible minority-owned businesses by preparing them to do businesses with general contractors on large projects.

“Those are the sorts of things that are going to make sure that we have another 10 or 15 or 20 more minority businesses over the next few years that are gonna survive,” he said.

The measure passed out of committee Tuesday and awaits full board consideration.

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative “Sharing America,” covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland (Oregon). Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.

Ashley Lisenby is the news director of St. Louis Public Radio.