Christine Stuart photo
Hartford legislators want 18.75 percent of small business contracts for the Metropolitan District Commission’s $1.6 billion sewer separation project to be given to minority-owned firms.

The legislation that came out of the Planning and Development Committee also calls for 25 percent of those employed by all contractors to be minorities and 5 percent to be ex-offenders who have completed their probation or parole.

Rep. Art Feltman (pictured), D-Hartford, and Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Hartford, admitted the goals were ambitious.

Rep. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said including the ex-offenders is a great vehicle the community can use “to help them help themselves.” Coleman said it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that those who are historically deprived of opportunity will end up back in prison.

The percentage of minority labor is more ambitious than the goal in the Adriean’s Landing project.

In addition the contracts with be with a utility that has a history of discrimination. The commission’s former counsel, Bourke Spellacy, once called filing discrimination lawsuit’s a “cottage industry” for MDC employees. But in recent years the MDC has reached out to minority contractors and the last of the lawsuits have been settled.

In 2005 the MDC started hosting a mentoring program for minority and women-owned businesses. Click here to read about that program.

The legislation introduced by Feltman and Coleman does not include women-owned businesses. Michelle Brown from the construction trade council said she’s glad the duo separated out white women-owned businesses. She said this legislation represents three times more minority participation than traditional state contracts.

The greatest concern expressed by those at the press conference Thursday was compliance, which will be monitored by the Connecticut Human Rights Commission. Former Hartford Mayor Carrie Saxon-Perry pointed out CHRO “has had its own difficulties.”

Last year the former executive director of the CHRO became the subject of several CHRO complaints from women employees within the agency.

Ray Pech, the acting CHRO executive director, said that these contracting issues have been neglected for a long-time. He said the last study on the disparity of minority contractors was done 20-years ago. He said it’s “obvious today that they’re not getting their fair share of state money.”

He said the oversight of the MDC project will be thorough because “you can say one thing on paper, but you need someone to go count heads.” He said that’s the level of scrutiny CHRO is willing to use to accomplish these goals.