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Council Upset Over Lack of Diversity at City Hall

Saturday, June 09, 2012


At last week’s City Council meeting, several councilors voiced concern over City Hall’s lack of diversity. City Manager Michael O’Brien was quick to agree to meet to form a plan to act against this problem, while the city’s Human Resources department denies that there has been any negligence in outreach to minorities.

Words from Council

At the City Manager's evaluation, the issue of minority outreach from City Hall was a hot button issue brought up by several city councilors.

“I'm still disappointed in the minority outreach and hires. I asked that that would be looked at,” said Councilor Kathleen Toomey said. “We are the most diverse city in Central Mass. I’m not seeing that reflected in the new hires. I can't see why we can't reach out.”

“It has me thinking, do we not reach out to the right people? I don't believe we don't have people of color here in the city willing to do these jobs,” she said.

Councilors Joseph O’Brien and Sarai Rivera were also very vocal about the issue, saying that city government should represent the governed.

“If you look at the demographics – there’s nothing I need to say when you look at the department heads who were at last week’s meeting,” said Rivera. “How many Asians were there? How many African Americans? Not that they don’t do an amazing job, but it is important for us as we move forward to look with job openings for minorities.”

Rivera cited examples of other similarly sized cities in the area who have African American mayors and administration.

“I was glad that this issue was brought up. It was really good to hear that,” she said.

As councilors shed light on this issue, Rivera said that the City Manager has responded very positively.

A Plan

“Currently the city manager and I are actively working on a really positive plan to move this forward. We have been thinking about some ideas,” Rivera said. “It has been a concern. He responded really well. When I brought it up, he said that he’s very willing to look at this and what we can do to actively look at recruiting a diverse staffing. How we can diversity city hall.”

From Another Department

While councilors and the Manager are working for a future solution to this issue, Sulma Rubert-Silva, Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the City’s HR department says they have been doing everything they can to combat the problem.

“I don’t know why it was an issue,” she said. According to Rubert-Silva, the city’s 22% minorities and 56% female hiring, reflecting up to March was not a surprising figure, especially considering the city’s current process and hiring freeze.

Eighty percent of the city’s jobs are civil service jobs, which means that employees have to take an exam, which places you on a list. For the city’s clerical positions, many are civil. 20% are non-civil service.

“When we have an exam coming up, we do outreach. We put ads in the paper. We do fliers. We go to the colleges, job fairs… That’s how we’ve done recruiting when we have job opening,” Rubert-Silva said. “There has also been a hiring freeze for the last three years, so we’re only able to hire critical positions. Not every job is available. There’s a process.”

Given this system, Councilor Kate Toomey still said at last week’s meeting that the figures were unacceptable.

“This year has proven to be another year of challenges,” she said. “Twenty-two percent of 27 positions hired have been minorities, and that is not enough. We need to find new avenues to reflect the community in which we live.”

To this, Rubert-Silva says there are deeper underlying issues, like age and education of those taking the tests for city positions. Given this contention, she is very pleased to hear of the city’s plans to open up a dialogue.

“I understand a meeting going to take place. It’s great that they are willing to meet with the Manager in terms of what they feel is appropriate. I’m definitely not opposed to it. The City Manager is committed to diversity,” she said. “We’ve been trying.”

A Two-Sided Issue

The issue of minority outreach at City Hall, falls on both parties, according to Yvonne Brown, New England Area Conference Administrator, who has worked with the local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

“I think from what I’ve been hearing it means that African Americans and other minorities need to work better with City Hall,” she said. “They need to sit down with each other in small groups and listen to each other. Listening is a key part of the conversation and express the needs of the group.”

Framingham, she said, had a very similar issue in years past, something that she worked to fix.

“People need to reach and connect with each other. It has to be a two way street. Everyone can do a better job. People are frustrated from losing their jobs and homes,” Brown said. “It doesn’t mean that one group needs to be sacrificed. We’re not trying to take jobs. We’re trying to build a community but we need to stand up and express our needs.”

Political activism and a visual presence, Brown said are key parts of getting representation at City Hall.

“We need to go to the meetings being held at City Hall. We have to be able to sit at the table and have meeting and dialogue… and vote,” she said. “We have to watch to see what kinds of people they put into office and hold them accountable.


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