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Set-aside proposal heading to county
Board member seeks minority hiring law

Friday, July 14, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

A Cook County commissioner said Thursday that she intends to introduce a new minority-contracting ordinance for construction projects after a study showed participation has dropped in the wake of a federal judge striking down the program six years ago.

Commissioner Bobbie Steele, who chairs the County Board's Contract Compliance Committee, said her goal is to introduce the proposed ordinance at the board's first meeting in September.

Steele's statement followed the release Thursday of a study that showed construction contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses dropped, in terms of the dollars awarded, from 26 percent to 17 percent since the county's set-aside program was struck down in 2000 as unconstitutional.

The numbers for women- and minority-owned construction subcontractors showed an even more drastic decline, from 23 percent to 1.7 percent.

While the dollars awarded for construction contracts fell, minority participation in professional services contracts nearly doubled to more than $24 million since the court ruling.

"This suggests that the county has continued its outreach efforts to good effect," according to the study, which was prepared by Colette Holt, a lawyer who specializes in affirmative action programs.

Holt told commissioners Thursday that the courts are holding government affirmative action contracting programs to strict and narrow standards. Holt also has worked with Chicago after a federal judge forced changes in the city's program.

Based upon the findings of her study, Holt recommended that the county approve an ordinance to restart its program while conducting an in-depth "disparity study" that would help the ordinance withstand legal scrutiny on an ongoing basis.

"To me, you cannot speak more loud and clear that fairness in this county does come about without legislation," said County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, an outspoken proponent of minority-contracting programs.

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