For the past several years, the Harris County Commissioners Court has allowed affirmative action policies to thrive in local government by pushing departments to award contracts based on minority status or gender.

Since approval in 2019 by the Harris County Commissioners Court, the Harris County Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity (DEEO) has operated as an affirmative action arm of the county government.

The DEEO was founded on the taxpayers’ dime by Colette Holt & Associates, a firm that offers business and governments legal services for “issues relating to inclusion, diversity and affirmative action,” and has contracted with 11 state governments, 21 cities, and at least eight counties, according to their website.

The way the DEEO currently enforces affirmative action in Harris County is through the “Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise policy” (usually referenced in government documents as “M/WBE”).

The M/WBE policy allows contractors to obtain a M/WBE label, which county departments are then forced to consider when awarding contracts.

The City of Houston likewise picks contractors based on M/WBE status and employs Colette Holt & Associates to conduct a “disparity study” on city departments every five years, per city ordinance.

Harris Health also contracts with Colette Holt & Associates for “disparity studies,” with the most recent study in 2022 recommending they “create a new senior leadership position to oversee all efforts towards contracting diversity and inclusion.”

That same year, Harris Health credited the disparity study as motivation for appointing Jobi Martinez as their first chief diversity officer, a position responsible for “integrating DEI efforts into all aspects of system operations and decision-making” for the department’s DEI programs.

Last month, the DEEO presented its mid-year “M/WBE Utilization” report to the Harris County Commissioners Court. The report highlighted that DEEO is increasing the number of contracts awarded not by merit but rather by ethnicity or gender by 32.8 percent compared to last year.

At the end of the presentation, commissioners were asked for any action on the resolution, to which Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis remarked, “Keep the numbers going up. That’s the action.”

Following the commissioners court meeting, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced on Twitter, “We’re working to move past the Old Boys’ way of doing things … Last week, we authorized our departments to study & remedy pay disparity moving towards a more just workplace for all.”

However, responses to her post were not as agreeable.

One citizen wrote, “Old Boys? Like Rodney? Pay disparity could be related to experience/education/tenure. Those should be the criteria used regardless of race/gender.”

Another commented, “Google did this and it turned out they were underpaying MEN[.] I can’t wait to see how this waste of taxpayer money turns out.”

Micah Rice

A summer writing fellow for Texas Scorecard, Micah has an interest in spreading the truth about Texas politics.