At the suggestion of City Councilman Chalmers McDougald, the City of Fayetteville is asking the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to examine the fire department’s hiring practices. City Manager Doug Hewett told City Council he has asked the Raleigh office of the EEOC to look into concerns that the department has been unable to attract, recruit and hire minority firefighters.
McDougald took the lead among African-American council members in determining why only a few of the city’s 300 firefighters are black or another minority. “If there’s something we can do better, we will do it,” Hewett told Council during a work session that attracted several dozen minority residents.
This is the first time the EEOC has been asked to intervene in city minority hiring practices since a similar examination of the police department was undertaken 20 years ago. Little has changed in the diversity of either public safety department in the two decades since.
Of the city’s 433 police officers, only 80, or 19 percent, are black, according to Acting Chief Anthony Kelley. There are fewer than a dozen African-American members of the fire department. Ironically, the chiefs of both departments are black.
Hewett received City Council’s permission to make an exception in state law allowing him to release personnel information that is normally kept private. In the most recent hiring process, 693 applications were received. Four hundred sixteen were white males. One hundred thirty were African-American men. For the convenience of applicants, they were told to schedule themselves to take the initial written exam.
Only 70 of the black applicants made appointments, according to information provided by Fire Chief Ben Major. Of that number, 53 showed up to take the test; 27 of them passed the exam and qualified for the physical exam.
In response to questions from Council members, Chief Major said the written test is fair and measures math and reading comprehension at a 10th-grade level. About the same percentage of white applicants took the initial test; 141 of the 416 applicants passed the written test. But a significantly larger number of white applicants advanced to take the
Speaking on the lack of diversity, “We know we are nowhere where we want to be,” Major said. Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Colvin wanted to know when he could expect to see some results of EEOC findings designed to increase minority participation. Hewett said if the EEOC declines to do a review, the city will hire a consultant specializing in the field to do a similar probe.
For his part, Councilman McDougald said he was glad the city would seek an independent review. “That means we are taking constructive action on our own to make this right,” McDougald said. He said he decided to back off from his initial determination to take the administration to task.
He’s one of two church pastors on Council. All four black members of council, including Bill Crisp and Larry Wright, made comments during the hour-long meeting.