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"We Are Disgusted, We Are Hurt"

Black boycott a possibility if minority program isn't restored

As of deadline Monday, community leaders had planned to meet at the old city hall on Trade Street Tuesday morning to discuss a potential boycott. This is in the wake of the city council's 8-3 vote to terminate a minority program that mandates that 6 percent of subcontracts be set aside for women and minority contractors.

What could potentially be boycotted by whom is unclear, but African-American leaders, members of the city-county community relations board, minority contractors and some representatives of Charlotte businesses that aren't minority-owned will meet to discuss ways to forcibly motivate the council to reverse its vote and continue the program, or put some sort of temporary program in place until a new, more legally sound program can be approved.

"We are disgusted, we are hurt, we are embarrassed that our city leaders would not come up with other solutions rather than dismantling it," said Charlotte Mecklenburg National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Yvonne Pettis last Friday. "This is going to effect the livelihoods of so many people, and we are disappointed."

Pettis would not confirm rumors that any boycott would be NAACP-led, but said that the organization planned to "support the minority contractors in their efforts."

The meeting was not to be open to the public, but two city council members acknowledged that they knew it would be taking place.

A lawsuit by United Construction Company alleged that the city's Minority and Women-Owned Business Development (MWBD) program violates the US Constitution

after United, the lowest bidder for the city's $2.5 million Sharon Amity/Monroe Road intersection project, didn't get the bid because it failed to subcontract 6 percent of the work to minority and women-owned businesses. The contract was awarded to a higher bidder, which cost the city an additional $165,000.

United had planned to use a woman-owned contractor to paint divider lines on the street, but the work done by that contractor only represented 1.2 percent of the company's bid. United representatives claim they did not need to hire out the rest of the work, because they had the ability to do it in-house.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus President Eric Douglas said it wasn't the specifics of this case that bothered him, but that city leaders dismantled the program without fighting the conservative legal think tank fighting to shut it down.

"They are going to ride into town and ride out," said Douglas. "They've done this before."

Douglas worries that the city's timetable for constructing a new, lawsuit-proof program -- up to a year -- is too long for some entrepreneurs to wait.

"That's a whole year where these businesses could be suffering," said Douglas.

Still, the odds that the city's program could have withstood a legal challenge were slim. Since the City of Richmond v. Croson case in 1989, not one race-based set-aside program like Charlotte's has survived a court challenge.

United, which ironically enough is a minority-owned firm, fell into a trap that often snares other mid-sized construction firms when they bid on city contracts. According to the city policy, if a contractor plans to subcontract out at all, it must bid out 6 percent of its subcontracts to minority or woman-owned contractors. But if it can do all the work in-house, or doesn't need to hire subcontractors, then it is exempt from the 6 percent rule.

United representatives refused to comment Thursday on their case, which is being litigated by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, an Atlanta-based conservative legal think tank that has dedicated itself to challenging minority quotas and affirmative action programs over the last decade.

Southeastern president Phil Kent says the city can better accomplish its goals by using mentoring programs for minority businesses like one in Detroit, which developed a contracting program with set-asides for local businesses and small businesses that isn't race or gender based.

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