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Minority group files complaint with White House

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A group of African-American businesses is asking the White House to withhold federal funds from three Wichita-area governments until they agree to spend more with minority contractors.

United Builders and Contractors Inc. includes more than 50 businesses. In its complaint, the group says less than $500,000 of the nearly $800 million spent last year by Wichita, Sedgwick County and the Wichita School District on goods and services went to black-owned businesses.

The group’s administrator, Prentice Lewis, said the complaint was filed July 22 with the office of Vice President Joe Biden because of his involvement with stimulus funds.

Lewis said the complaint was filed to get the attention of officials with the three governments. He said it was the result of frustration by business owners who want the three entities to hire more minority contractors.

“We just thought if we started at the head, it would end up at the appropriate place — probably the Department of Labor,” he said.

The three governments are accused in the complaint of engaging in “an ongoing practice of limiting and/or excluding African-American business enterprises’ participation on federal assisted public works projects.

“Therefore, we request that all federal funding and financial assistance to these entities be withheld until such time as they may enact policies and procedures (that) ensure that African-American businessmen and women have access to contracts to provide goods and services on federally assisted projects.”

Assistant Sedgwick County Manager Charlene Stevens said she was surprised by the complaint.

“We’re disappointed,” she said. “We have been working with them, and we thought we had resolved any issues that they had.”

City and school officials said they could not comment on the complaint.

But Darren Muci, the school district’s operations division director, said the district adopted a policy in June that is designed to help provide opportunities for disadvantaged and women-owned businesses.

Lewis said discussions with officials of the three governments haven’t been successful. And he said talks with school officials are like “pouring water off a duck’s back. … The same kind of situation happens with the county and the city. They listen to you, but then nothing happens. Nothing ever seems to get done.”

Information from: The Wichita Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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