Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Lawmaker Seeks 'Groundswell of Support' in Oklahoma

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Lawmaker Seeks 'Groundswell of Support' in Oklahoma

Article excerpt

While the fallout from a nationwide flurry of civil rights complaints was expected to reach every state in the union this fall - in Oklahoma the storm arrived in February.

Earlier this year, Harry Alford, executive director the National Black Chamber of Commerce, announced he would file a series of contracting complaints against state agencies that receive federal money. Alford said his goal was to get more federal contracts directed toward minority-owned companies by increasing pressure on states to comply with civil rights rules.

Alford he said he would file the complaints in each state.

"I'm going to raise hell," he said. "You can get your funds frozen. That's what needs to happen. We're going to make some examples."

In Oklahoma, Alford had help.

Here, state Sens. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, and Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, joined with members of the state's Legislative Black Caucus to file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

That suit, records show, was filed in February.

"ODOT's contracting process has long been dominated by a business- as-usual attitude, which makes it difficult for minority businesses to successfully participate," Johnson said in a media release announcing the suit. "It's time for us to establish accountability for what has been a continuing pattern of failure on the part of ODOT to utilize minority contractors."

Johnson said her suit was filed just as the state received its share of federal transportation stimulus funds.

"Since then, not much has happened," she said. "The governor appointed Gary Ridley as secretary of transportation in response to the suit. Then they proceeded to divvy up the pie."

Johnson said she and other lawmakers met with ODOT officials who admitted they had violated federal law.

"We had meetings with ODOT and they admitted it was true," she said. "They said they tried to mitigate, and they knew they had filed, and that they were open to suggestions."

On Thursday, Alford said he supported Johnson's suit.

"Oklahoma is just as egregious as California," Alford said. "But California is bigger. Right now I'm focusing on California and Illinois and Connie's focused on Oklahoma. I want to see how this plays out."

In a posting on the NBCC's Web site, Alford said 41 years had passed since the implementation of Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act.

"For the next 15 months, the National Black Chamber of Commerce plans to ensure that this job and business creator is enforced," the posting said. "We are going to do all of the heavy lifting to make it happen. When it's enforced, there will be an additional 100,000 jobs within the African-American community annually. There should be an additional $2 billion in business contracts for our firms."

So far, Alford has proven good to his word, filing complaints against agencies in Florida, California, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. …

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