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Interfaith group challenges St. Paul’s minority hiring and contracting program

For eight years Fredrick Newell, owner of Newell Construction, made requests of St. Paul’s city council members, the city attorney, the human rights director, and mayors to bring the city into compliance with minority hiring and contracting requirements. Frustrated, in June of 2008, Newell filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), documenting the city’s failure to notify potential low-income businesses and to exercise oversight over contractors.
The St. Paul Black Ministerial Alliance (BMA) and ISAIAH, a faith-based community organization, joined Newell in advocating for HUD to conduct a monitoring review of the city. In its review, HUD found the problems went far beyond not meeting goals or reporting correctly, but that “staff had no working knowledge of Section 3.”
After months of review, HUD found the City of St. Paul in violation of requirements for hiring and contracting with low-income residents and businesses, compelling the city to implement a compliance agreement.
Lonnie Ellis, minister of social justice at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, said, “After years of diverting money intended to go to the low-income community, it is not enough to simply ask the city to start following the law. There is at least $4 million in debt owed to the low-income community.”
“It’s a good step that HUD is making the city enforce this law,” said the Rev. James Thomas, Mount Olivet Baptist Church, St. Paul. “The city is going to need to put its money where its mouth is, because this agreement calls for ambitious job training and business development, with only $300,000 a year to pay for it.
“It’s time the city shows the community results. The city keeps saying the outcomes for inclusion are better, but that they can’t show us the numbers yet. That’s like my kid saying her grades are better, but she won’t let me see them.”

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