Brown: City Hall needs more minorities

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 3, 2005

Just 13 percent of the 166 men in the Suffolk Fire Department are black.

Blacks account for 44 of 171 – or 26 percent – of the Suffolk Police Department’s employees.

The city’s 14-member planning department employs only three black women.

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In a city where the population is 54 percent white, 44 percent black and 2 percent Hispanic/American Indian, those figures need to change, said Suffolk City Councilman Charles F. Brown.

&uot;That is out of tolerance,&uot; said Brown, who is black. &uot;Those three departments stand out like a sore thumb.

&uot;These figures are not equitable…and they are not acceptable for me,&uot; he continued. &uot;We need to do a much better job of having our employee population mirror the city’s population.

&uot;There is no excuse in this day and time for not having a diverse city. This is not a black or a white thing, it’s about having a city that is fair and just to all.&uot;

City Manager R. Steven Herbert provided the city employee demographic report to the city council earlier this month, in response to a request Brown made at a November meeting. Brown said he made the request after constituents approached him with related questions.

Councilman Curtis R. Milteer reiterated Brown’s call for increased minority hiring.

&uot;I think the situation is out of balance, particularly in the police department,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to work gradually to bring in more minority employees to the city.

&uot;We want people who are able to perform successfully with a minimum amount of supervision,&uot; he said. &uot;Qualifications have to be the main ingredients in hiring practices.

&uot;… It all deals with recruitment. That is the key.&uot;

The city has made great strides in attracting black department heads in recent years, Brown said.

Black department heads include Police Chief William Freeman;

Gerry Jones, director of capital programs; Yvonne Manning, the city’s human resources director; David Freeman, director of neighborhood development services and Lakita Frazier, director of parks and recreation.

Dennis Craff, spokesman for the city, was not familiar with specific minority recruitment activities. Manning, the city’s human resources director, was out of town for the Christmas holiday.

&uot;We must be doing something pretty well,&uot; Craff said. &uot;Suffolk has a fairly good racial mix of city employees.&uot;

Statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicate that the city’s overall employee base is 58 percent white, and 41 percentblack;

Hispanic/American Indian, 1 percent.

Although Mayor Bobby L. Ralph supports regular monitoring of the city’s diversity levels, he believes the city has done a good job.

&uot;We certainly encourage our human resources department to strive for a balance that represents our population mix,&uot; he said. &uot;That is a good guide to use…and I think we have done a fairly good job in this area.

&uot;…The first criteria we look for is that (prospective) employees are qualified for whatever the job is.&uot;

Charles Christian, chairman of the Suffolk chapter of the NAACP, said he hasn’t heard any recent complaints on the city’s minority hiring practices.

Still, he believes, periodic diversity evaluations are important for all cities and businesses.

&uot;No one has said anything to me about any problems,&uot; Christian said. &uot;It’s always good to see where you are (in terms of diversity). I think it’s a question we should stay abreast of.&uot;

More than simply looking at the number of blacks employed, city leaders also need to look at the types of positions going to minorities, he said.

Foe example, Christian said, the study should include how many city-employed blacks hold higher-paying, management-level positions versus lower-paying positions, such as ones in maintenance or public works departments.

&uot;I’m not saying fill a position because of race,&uot; Christian said. &uot;We like to think we have persons that qualify for higher paying positions these days.

&uot;It’s difficult to think you can’t find qualified African Americans to interview for upper level positions these day.&uot;