Legislator: Rodeo Needs to Hire Minorities, Open Books

Bill Murphy, Houston Chronicle, February 24, 2009

State Sen. Mario Gallegos said he will be filing a bill Friday that would require the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to contract with more minority-owned businesses, include minorities on its board and comply with open records requests.

Gallegos said he and other minority leaders urged action on the same issues during a meeting last week with rodeo officials but were told that the rodeo could not address their demands–it has a show to put on starting next week.

“It’s time they break the good ole boy system and start doing what’s right, period,” said Johnny Mata, the former head of the local chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens, who attended the meeting. “I am a firm believer that we can meet halfway.”

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“They just told the DOJ they thought it was pointless,” Gallegos [a Houston Democrat] said. “I want to know what they do with their money. They are the largest cash cow in Houston.”

The rodeo generates more than $80 million in revenues annually.

Leroy Shafer, the rodeo’s chief operating officer, said the nonprofit organization would not comment on the bill because officials have not seen it. The rodeo’s lobbyist was rebuffed when he tried to meet with Gallegos or his aides in the past three weeks to discuss the legislation, Shafer said.

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Shafer said the rodeo continues to encourage minorities to attend the show, secure contracts from the rodeo, seek scholarships and rise to leadership posts.

He said the rodeo has a strong record on issues of diversity. It is one of the leading providers of college scholarships to minorities in the area, Shafer said.

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No minorities or women serve on the rodeo’s 19-member executive committee, but those posts are filled in part based on years of volunteer service at the show, Shafer said. The average years of service for committee members is 37.5, and minorities, he said, haven’t yet worked their way onto the committee.

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The legislation appears to fit only the rodeo, which leases space at Reliant Park from the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp.

It would require the rodeo’s executive committee to reflect the county’s ethnic and racial demographics and that the rodeo “make a reasonable effort” to award contracts to minority-owned firms.

When the Super Bowl was held in Houston in 2004, the NFL tried to make sure some minority- and women-owned businesses were awarded contracts related to the game and its festivities through a small-business program.

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