Rodeo Rejects Mediation Request Over Minorities

Bill Murphy, Houston Chronicle, May 21, 2008

The Houston rodeo has rejected a U.S. Justice Department offer to mediate disputes with minority groups who say it needs more minorities in high-ranking positions, doesn’t give scholarships to noncitizens in the country legally and has stopped featuring Tejano performers on its main stages.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo does not believe mediation is needed because it promotes diversity and does not engage in discrimination, said chief operating officer Leroy Shafer.

“At this point, we see no need to have a Justice Department mediator involved in this,” he said. “We’ve heard (the minority groups’) issues. We think they are all pointless.”

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Boycott was urged

The officials and groups sought mediation after some of them protested the rodeo’s decision not to include Tejano groups on main venues at this year’s show. The groups also urged Hispanics to boycott the rodeo.

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The Justice Department has not launched an investigation of the rodeo, but is merely seeking to mediate the dispute.

If the rodeo and minority groups agreed, a nonbinding memorandum of understanding could be reached through mediation. It would lay out goals that the rodeo would try to attain.

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Shafer said he doesn’t know how many minorities serve on the board because the rodeo doesn’t track members’ ethnicities.

The rodeo, he said, successfully has boosted the number of minorities who serve as volunteers during the past 25 years.

But volunteers are promoted in part based on years of service and donations, he said. Executive committee members have put in 37 years of volunteering, on average, he said.

Many minorities and women, meanwhile, are rising through the ranks, he said.

“It would not be fair to people out here to have a quota system,” he said. “It’s just like you don’t go to work for Exxon and say you want to be the president the next day. You’ve got to work your way up there.”

Got a late start

Mata said minorities can’t match Anglos’ length of service because they didn’t feel welcome at the rodeo years ago, and the rodeo should develop a process that would infuse more minorities into higher ranking posts.

Shafer defended the rodeo’s practice of excluding noncitizens in the country legally from scholarship awards, a policy set by the executive committee. The rodeo, he said, receives a glut of scholarship applications.

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Shafer said the rodeo stopped featuring Tejano music on main stages because “Tejano music is not selling. Everybody knows that except the Tejano artists producing it and a few activists.”

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