NAACP: MoDOT discriminated with stimulus jobs

The NAACP is slamming MoDOT over how nearly $200 million in federal stimulus money was spent.

Now, the oversight branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation is involved.

Federal investigators are looking into whether Missouri did enough to involve minority-owned businesses in stimulus construction contracts.

Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri NAACP, says "yes" minority businesses are being discriminated against by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

"Efforts were not made to ensure that part of the stimulus money directly affected the African American community," she said.

Of the $198 million MoDOT awarded in stimulus-funded contracts, only 1 percent went to minority businesses, according to Ratliff. "One percent is not enough,"she said at her Columbia home.

The NAACP's accusing MoDOT of not following federal guidelines for spending stimulus money, which include "vigorous efforts" to reach out to minority businesses, according to Ratilff.

Recently, MoDOT blamed the low number of contracts awarded to minority companies on "geography," saying a lot of minority contractors are based in cities, while most road work needs to be done in rural areas.

The NAACP says that's nonsense and says minority businesses were "overlooked." Ratliff says urban businesses are just as capable of doing work outside cities.

"Somehow [MoDOT is] thinking that [minority companies] were not capable of performing services, a wide range of service," she said. "And that is simply not the case."

By comparison, women-owned businesses faired better nabbing 8 percent.

Lester Woods, an African American, is the Civil Rights Director with MoDOT. It was his "geography" comment that fired up the NAACP. When asked why the number was so low he took a long pause and dodged the question.

When asked a second time why he thought the numbers were so low, he took another pause. "Highway construction contracting is very, very complicated," he said. "It's a lot of big-dollar contracting."

Woods says MoDOT is reaching out to minority businesses to help them prepare bids for contracts and to help them with bonding requirements.

The NAACP, however, isn't budging. They've appealed to the White House and the Office of Inspector General.

They're also thinking about protesting. One idea would be to hold "Freedom Rides," where the group would drive 52 mph on I-70, which would snarl traffic and slow commercial vehicles.

The civil rights groups will meet later this month to discuss possible protest options.