Houston affirmative action programs questioned
(2/26/07 - KTRK/HOUSTON) (KTRK) -- Houston's affirmative action program -- it was created to stop discrimination but now it's helping the rich get richer. If you think affirmative action was controversial before, wait until you see what a multi-million dollar mess it has become.
Drive south on the bridge to Kemah and look to your right. It's hard not to notice an 11,000 square foot mansion. The property appraises at about $2 million. Do the owners look like they need affirmative action help from Houston's city hall? Well, they got it -- to the tune of $12 million.
We asked city affirmative action director Velma Laws, "Do you think it's fair that people with mansions can get affirmative action contracts?"
"I believe it's fair if they are qualified to participate in the program," she responded.
Imagine a big icebox pie, except this one doesn't just have lemon filling. It's full of money -- city contracts. For 22 years Houston's city hall has used affirmative action to make sure qualified minority and women-owned companies get a piece of the pie. Contractors wanting city business have to make a good faith pledge that a percentage of the work will go there.
"Making sure that somebody gets a piece of the pie that otherwise might not," we said.
Laws clarified, "Or that hadn't in the past, sure."
When the city gave out its huge garbage collection contract to Republic Waste, 19% was set aside to affirmative action. Michael Ware and his two garbage trucks stood to make half a million dollars, enough to help his 74-year-old mom Ruby.
Ware said, "Actually I thought we be able to move Momma out of the hood get her something better, get her away from these crack heads."
It was a chance for this Acres Home garbage man to get a piece of the pie.
"The city wants a minority to bid this thing in and profit from that and grow his business to a place where he doesn't need to be in affirmative action," Ware said. "He can stand on his own."
But Republic's biggest piece of the affirmative action pie went to a company called Lady Pegasus -- a company that would provide fuel for the garbage trucks. The owner, Betty Maniscalco, qualified to get government affirmative action contracts because she was a woman. Judging from her house, she's got a pretty big piece of pie already.
"It doesn't state anything about their personal net worth or anything," Velma Laws explained. "That's not the basis of it."
Lady Pegasus got the contract even after the city had suspicions "the company does not have any inventory."
How about this for a red flag? The company didn't even own a fuel truck. But her husband's company did. In fact, we found her small office was right next door to her husband's company headquarters. Lady Pegasus was simply directing Republic's business to her husband's company.
In four years city hall let millions go to the Maniscalcos unchallenged Our investigation of Republic in 2005 triggered an audit of Lady Pegasus and the company was booted out of affirmative action. That's where the punishment ended.
Laws said, "It was not Republic's fault that Lady Pegasus was certified."
City council renewed Republic's contract without a mention of its affirmative action goals. And while Republic keeps picking up the trash, they haven't found a single new minority firm to share in its huge contract.
We asked, "Why have we let them off the hook?"
"I'll follow up on that and find out," Laws promised.
You'd think Velma Laws would have been ready for that question. We've been asking it for almost a year.
We asked, "You think Republic cheated you from the beginning?"
Michael Ware responded, "Big time."
Michael Ware's garbage company is now out of business. He only got a fraction of what he thought Republic would share with him. And Ware claims the mistreatment went beyond money.
He said, "They don't want you to have this contract because that was too much money for this n----- and they don't want you to have nothing else neither."
"That is unacceptable," responded Laws.
Ruby Ware said, "Affirmative action is supposed to be fair and equal, you know. Treat everybody fair, so no one gets more than another."
The executives Michael Ware complains about lost their jobs in the Republic scandal we exposed.
(Copyright © 2007, KTRK-TV)
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