Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Contractors' Complaint Leaves Delaney Livid

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Contractors' Complaint Leaves Delaney Livid

Article excerpt

Byline: David DeCamp, Times-Union staff writer

Firing the first shot in a racially tinged tussle, Mayor John Delaney yesterday said a potential lawsuit by some white contractors to stop City Hall's minority contracting goals is disturbing and will be fought with vigor.

The Utility Contractors Association of North Florida for months has been preparing to sue the city to overturn its contracting policy, which establishes percentage goals for most contracts based on race, gender and ethnicity. Instead, the group is seeking a policy based on improving small businesses, saying race-based programs are unacceptable.

"The association and its members are committed to fair and equal opportunities for all contractors and is committed fully to that course," Ryan Schmitt, association president, said yesterday in a prepared statement.

In a heated presentation to the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, Delaney delivered stinging criticism of the association's motives, saying the group just wants to keep business to itself.

"We can't let the city go back to the type of contracting where only the rich get business," he said.

Delaney said companies participating in the suit could be barred from bidding on future projects because the city might be faced with bids used against them in court.

The contractors didn't say when the suit would be filed and made no further comment yesterday. The mayor said he has been told it will be filed Wednesday.

If a judge rules against the policy, parts of the $2.2 billion Better Jacksonville Plan -- a road and building construction program built on tight deadlines -- could be held in limbo. Delaney said he is convinced City Hall will not lose, citing city attorneys' review and a draft audit that showed no compliance problems.

Bill Truitt, chairman of the North Florida chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, said losing the program would devastate local minority businesses, which historically have struggled to win government work.

"What they [utility contractors] want is truly unfair, because they want all minority contractors to compete with them, and they can't compete with them," said Truitt, whose group is sponsoring training and meetings to improve minority firms' chances.

As a crucial part of Better Jacksonville Plan contracts, the city has increased minority participation goals upward of 25 percent, higher than city code designates. Delaney said yesterday the policy is constitutional because the city has goals, not quotas.

"You've got a group of rich contractors who've been getting a whole lot of business, and they want to get all of it, and that's just disturbing," Delaney said. "It's a very select, small fraternity."

Delaney said the city will look into what he described as contractors' unsubstantiated rumors of fraud and sham firms set up to take advantage of the program. …

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