Miami-Dade race and gender study could open way for set-asides
By Risa Polansky
A lack of data showing the race and gender of contractors contributed to the court-ordered shutdown of Miami-Dade County's minority-based contracting program more than a decade ago.
Now, a commissioner is calling for a study that could prevent the same in the future.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan is proposing the county collect data on the race and gender of county contractors and their employees.
Years ago, the county's minority contracting program "was thrown out," Ms. Jordan said. "And we never set up anything to collect data."
The county's Housing & Community Development Committee unanimously OK'd the proposed study at a meeting last week.
Commissioner Katy Sorenson said she supports the idea but has legal concerns.
"I'm just worried about any unintended consequences," she said.
The study would act only to inform commissioners' future legislative decisions, assistant county attorney Oren Rosenthal told the committee.
"I think it's an informational tool at this point," he said.
Still, Ms. Sorenson said, "we've been through court cases on these issues."
Mr. Rosenthal assured commissioners that "this type of data is data that's routinely collected by both federal and local agencies throughout the country."
Minority- and gender-based contract set asides are permitted when a government can prove past discrimination against a specific class of people, such as minorities or women.
The government would then have to specifically tailor the set-aside program to address the problem.
In 1996, a federal district court declared Miami-Dade's affirmative action-style contracting program unconstitutional.
One big county no-no: it failed to prove the minority groups suffered past discrimination — even passively — by the county or in the local marketplace.
In 2004, another federal court ruling pertaining to Miami-Dade laid out one way a local government can justify minority set-asides: show statistical disparities between the minorities willing to and capable of doing the job and the minorities awarded contracts in the county.
Ms. Jordan's proposed study, due for a June 30 vote, could provide that type of data.
The study is designed "to evaluate the continued equality of opportunity in county contracting and to ensure that no improper disparity exists in the award of county contracts," her proposed legislation says.
Collecting race and gender data, she wrote, will provide commissioners "with information on whether corrective legislation is necessary to address any improper disparity in county contracting and how to best target that legislation."
The document notes also that "federal courts reviewing legislation addressing improper disparity in government contracting look at data collected to assess the constitutionality of such legislation."
In place of its minority and women programs, the county set up its Department of Small Business Development to boost small business participation in county projects.
Last year, the City of Miami abolished its pro-women-and-minority business program to comply with the years-old court decision in Miami-Dade.
In March, an attempt to set aside for African American-owned businesses 15% of the Florida Marlins' contribution to a new stadium went bust when County Attorney R.A. Cuevas Jr. refused to support the move.