THE CITY agency created to ensure minority participation in city contracts has been an abject failure for 25 years.

The Minority Business Enterprise Council has been tweaked and prodded. It has changed leadership and been put under the city Finance Department's purview. Still, rather than be an active advocate for minority businesses that deserve to share in the billions spent on city contracts, MBEC has rolled over and gone to sleep.

Minority contractors have complained about MBEC's ineptness for years. A. Bruce Crawley and the Technical Assistance Center for Emerging Contractors have highlighted the disparities. So has City Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., whose legislation last year put MBEC under the supervision of the Finance Department.

Yesterday the city controller's office added its voice to the chorus for change by releasing a special report. (Although we have to wonder if it wouldn't have just been a better use of everyone's time to close the MBEC office and start over, something that mayor-elect Michael Nutter has suggested he'll be doing.)

The controller's report details a litany of failures, some familiar and some new: for example, MBEC's own 2006 study, which claimed that the city had seen big increases in participation rates, was based on promises made by contractors, not actual contracts.

And there is no mechanism that allows the city to keep track of how much of its contracting dollars go to minority-or women-owned businesses.

If minority participation was actually a priority, the department charged with ensuring this would have made it a point to track its own progress.

No wonder data and statistics used by MBEC and the construction-trade unions referring to minority participation are suspect in the eyes of minority-participation advocates. This "illusion of inclusion" continues because the city doesn't track payments to MBEC-certified subcontractors. Tomorrow, Goode has scheduled hearings on MBEC's disparity study on city contracts. On Friday, Crawley will lead a "build smarter" protest at the Comcast Tower construction site, where a black hoist operator was taunted with a hangman's noose, a relic from the days of lynching.

In a city that's 55 percent minorities, and led by a black mayor, how is it that less than 12 percent of city contracts went to minority firms?

The real question is: Why have we tolerated this situation for as long as we have? *