Minority or Not Minority? Contractors Question City's Grant of Status

Article excerpt

St. Louis officials granted minority status to a mechanical contracting company that may not qualify for such status.

The company, Climate Engineering Corp., makes too much money and is not really run by blacks, some local minority contractors assert.

Those contractors say they are worried that Climate will take a large chunk out of the 25 percent of city contracts set aside for companies with a minority status.

Climate's minority status rests largely upon the company being owned and managed by Harold Antoine Sr., a black man who bought 51 percent last year. Antoine is the longtime head of the Human Development Corp., a nonprofit agency that handles about $13 million a year in federal funds to administer Head Start and other anti-poverty programs. His son is a special assistant to Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., leading some to assert that the elder Antoine got favorable treatment from Bosley.

City officials denied the allegations. Bosley was unavailable to comment.

Eric Vickers, an attorney representing local minority contractors, said: "They're corrupting the minority-business standards to reward friends and do favors. What is happening is that a front company is being formed, with connections to the mayor's office. That excludes legitimate minority businesses."

Antoine said that he runs the company and that it deserves minority status. "We don't get business because we're black, and we don't get business because of my son."

Climate got the minority status in November, helping the company win a $115,000 heating and cooling contract at the Kiel Center that month.

Climate was owned by whites from its founding in 1952 until Jan. 1, 1993, when Antoine and two white employees bought it.

The city's St. Louis Development Corp. gave Climate the minority status despite officials' concerns that Antoine may not oversee day-to-day operations and that the company had more than $7 million in gross receipts over the last three years. Federal guidelines call for minority owners to oversee the daily operations and for annual gross receipts of not more than $7 million over a three-year period.

Climate, a 100-employee company, was touted last year by Contracting Business, a trade journal, as a $10-million-a-year business.

"It's big fish eating the little fish," said Eddie Hasan, head of MoKan, a local group of minority-owned contracting companies. "If you grant certification to big companies, then what we've got is a welfare program for businesses, and that shouldn't be the case."

Climate's minority-certification effort goes back to the tenure of Brian Murphy, appointed by former Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr. to manage the city's minority contracting. Bosley fired Murphy in August.

Murphy said Monday that he had concerns last year, when the company first asked for minority status. …