TALLAHASSEE — A federal lawsuit alleges Florida discriminates against minority businesses in awarding contracts, including the hiring of a white-owned public relations partnership to promote awareness of the Census among blacks.
The Florida Black Chamber of Commerce and four black-owned public relations firms that sought the federally funded Census awareness contact sued the state, Gov. Charlie Crist, the winning bidder and its subcontractors Thursday.
The Moore/Ketchum Partnership has hired a black-owned subcontractor, ESP Media Corp., but that’s not sufficient, said Leslie Steele, president of Steele Communications Group of Midway, one of the plaintiffs.
“We can do and be the primary contractors and do this business very well to a target audience that we touch and reach every day,” Steele said at a news conference Friday.
The plaintiffs and their lawyer said they are seeking a court order to block the contract and alleged one member of a selection panel was biased. They also want a court ruling on whether former Gov. Jeb Bush’s One Florida program remains in effect and, if so, whether Crist has complied with it.
The suit alleges his administration hasn’t done so because contracts with black businesses have dropped by 88 percent between 2003 and 2009. Crist took office in 2007.
When Bush abolished affirmative action for contracting and university admissions a decade ago, he replaced it with One Florida. It encourages state officials to contract with businesses owned by minorities and women but without set-asides or quotas.