News Column

Houston Creates Standalone Affirmative Action Division

Sept. 25, 2012

Allan Turner

Houston, Texas Affirmative Action

The Houston City Council on Wednesday created a stand-alone department to manage municipal affirmative action programs, separating the business opportunity initiatives from the mayor's office, which had overseen such efforts.

The plan to split the program from the mayor's office was made by Councilman Larry Green in the form of a budget amendment. "I thought a stand-alone department would be a good way to give the division some teeth," Green said. "It would have a department head who could speak to other department heads, on the same footing, when it came to minority and small businesses."

Director, Staff Will Stay

The Office of Business Opportunities will retain the same staff and director as when it functioned as part of the mayor's office. The department will be responsible for overseeing the city's Small, Minority, Women, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, contract compliance and the Houston First program, which is aimed at giving preference to local companies on competitively bid services and purchases.

Mayor Annise Parker said the reformed division would "better respond to the demands of the businesses it serves."

The decision to create a stand-alone agency came months after a study found that construction businesses owned by minorities and women lagged behind competitors in city contracts.

Last spring, a 300-page report examining the success of the program from fiscal 2005 through the first half of fiscal 2010 found the targeted businesses received "fewer city contracting dollars than would be expected if our commercial markets operated in a purely race-neutral manner," City Attorney David Feldman said at the time.

Avenues of support

The city has run an affirmative action program for 28 years.

Woman-owned construction businesses suffered a major setback three years ago when an adverse ruling in a lawsuit against the city led to dropping of such companies from the program. After that year, woman-owned businesses benefited from the affirmative action program if they also were classified as "small" businesses.

Ways to provide support for such businesses are among subjects now being explored in a city working group headed by Green and department director Carlecia Wright.



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c)2012 Houston Chronicle


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