Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Minority Set-Asides

In the City of Miami, all minorities are created equal. Of course, some minorities are more equal than others.

Adrienne Macbeth, who headed the office for its first six years, concedes that the program has lost a sense of mission. "You look at the numbers and what it comes down to is that our minority criterion has outlived itself, at least in relation to Hispanics," says Macbeth, currently a deputy director with the city's Department of Solid Waste.

She says she's advised city commissioners, who review the office's activities annually, to redefine the program so that it aids all companies that are economically disadvantaged, not just those that fit into an ethnic category. "That's the way to level the playing field," she says. "But that notion doesn't appear to have political support." Peter Chin-Tai, she adds, is not the first Asian to lobby the council about the Minority/Women Business Affairs program. Back in 1989, an Indian engineer also came before the council, with equally frustrating results.

But Chin-Tai may be the first Asian to force the city commission's hand. He's determined to register his business with the Minority/Women's Business Affairs Office, and vows to sue if rejected.

"He's definitely got a case if they turn him down," says Dick Lee, the Taiwanese attorney representing Chin-Tai. "It's unconstitutional. We're going to try to convince the city to change the language in the ordinance. I was surprised to see this kind of an ordinance from Miami because it's supposed to be such an international community."

But Ron Williams, director of the Department of General Services Administration, which oversees the office, maintains that applications from Asian-owned businesses will not be accepted until the city's ordinance changes. "It's not a sticky issue," he insists. "The ordinance is plain and simple. Somebody else decides `minority' for us. We don't.

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