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THE CITY

Affirmative Action Plan Leaves Minorities Asking for More

By Sewell Chan

When four high-level positions in the city administration became vacant last year, City Manager Robert W. Healy named new managers to head the departments--public works, water, traffic and parking, and community development. All four were white.

The appointments caused an uproar among minority residents, who say the hiring process for Cambridge's city officials fails to reflect the makeup of the city's population.

"They find a few candidates, they put them into the pool, but they never get to the mountaintop," says State Rep. Alvin E. Thompson (D-Cambridge), president of the Cambridge chapter of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP).

With tensions rising over the lack of minority hires, members of the Cambridge chapter of the NAACP stormed a City Council meeting on May 1 with six demands, including the reorganization of the city's affirmative action office and the appointment of a new personnel director.

Cambridge, which is 28.4 percent minority according to the most recent U.S. Census, has a tradition of at least some minority elected office holders.

Kenneth E. Reeves '72, elected in 1991, is the city's first Black mayor, and Artis B. Spears is the first Black chair of the board of election commissioners. Two Blacks, Robin A. Harris and E. Denise Simmons, sit on the seven-member School Committee.

But many minority Cantabrigians blame Healy and his personnel department for being unenthusiastic, if not unconcerned, with promoting diversity in the bureaucratic elite.

"You would be hard-pressed to find anyone of minority descent making the decisions," says Reeves. "The whole administration, the whole public health [administration], all of the decision-making is largely [white], largely male."

Tough at the Top

At first glance, Cambridge seems to have achieved it goal of diversity in government. The city work force is a quarter minority, slightly short of the 28.4 percent of the city that is Black, Hispanic or Asian-American.

But those figures conceal the reality of minority hiring in Cambridge, particularly in positions of policy-making, where minorities are rarely appointed as department heads or top-ranking administrators.

In the top levels of the city bureaucracy--where so much of the day-to-day creation of public policy and enforcement of city laws takes place--few people of color are to be found.

For instance, although 40.4 percent of service maintenance workers are minorities, only 14.6 percent of city professional workers are. And a mere 11 percent of officials and administrators are people of color.

The Bigger Picture

In the rest of the country, affirmative action is undergoing a stringent revaluation. The California Civil Rights Initiative, a proposed state referendum, would prohibit race-based employment programs, public education admissions and government contracts. Meanwhile, President Clinton is reviewing the government's affirmative action program as Republicans in Congress attempt to dismantle it.

But in Cambridge, the debate is not over whether the city should have affirmative action, but over whether it is doing enough to place minorities in positions of power.

And although minorities made up 42.5 percent of the city's hiring from April 1994 to April 1995, only one full department--the Cambridge Police--is headed by a minority. Police Commissioner Perry L. Anderson Jr., appointed in 1991, is the first Black to be named the city's top cop.

At least one elected official, Reeves, says he thinks the city has been remiss in its efforts to hire minorities.

"The African-American community has been part of the backbone in the city and has yet to realize its potential," Reeves says. "There has been an affirmative action policy and a recision of the policy. I don't think there has been significant devotion to affirmative action."

Rev. L. Nelson Foxx, rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in Area Four, agrees. "If you say that you have 30 to 35 percent minority representation in this city, then every department should reflect that, not just the lower echelons," he said. "It's sort of like an imposed glass ceiling."

Why the Shortage?

Critics of Cambridge's affirmative action policies point to an array of causes for the lack of minority representation in the upper echelons of city government.

But among administrators and activists interviewed there is little consensus on what has caused the lack of minority administrators. Some believe the cause is simply subtle racism. But others point to the structure of municipal government with its complex service-rules, designed to guard against corruption, but making the recruitment of qualified minorities difficult if not impossible.

"You have wasted 25 years trying to get minorities in through affirmative action, which has not worked," says activist Saundra Graham, a former City Council member. "It has worked for women, it has not worked for people of color. That says to me there's only one issue, and that's racism."

Graham believes the city administration cannot invigorate its affirmative action program because it is largely white.

"If you have an all-white staff choosing the candidates, if you don't have any amongst them when you discuss [affirmative action], out of sight is out of mind," she says.

Others point to the political uniqueness of Cambridge, a small, mostly white city with a progressive tradition but a system of electoral politics based on favors and give-and-take.

"It's a political problem, primarily," says Lester P. Lee Jr., a rent control activist who teaches American history at Wheelock College in Boston. "It's one of patronage. Patronage is when it flows primarily through a kinship network."

"The top-echelon jobs minorities have been excluded from--that's Bob Healy's fault," Lee added. "If Bob Healy were seriously committed to diversity in the city, he would have hired in his cabinet someone of color to run a major department."

And some see the city's failure as a lack of enthusiasm and commitment to the goals of affirmative action, first outlined in Cambridge in 1971.

"I think it's more of an institutional problem that requires a deeper institutional effort," said Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree Jr., an NAACP member. "It's the level of Commitment to hiring [minorities] that is critical."

Rev. L. Nelson Foxx, rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in Area Four, agrees. Foxx believes that in small cities like Cambridge, truly objective hiring is an elusive goal.

"It's like any other system," Foxx says. "The problem is not what you know, it's who you know. With any city of this size, there's bound to be some nepotism, some favoritism."

Yet other minority administrators think the problem may lie in the profitability of jobs elsewhere.

"It may just be networking, but sometimes I wonder if because of the municipalities' salary structures, minority individuals who are really in high demand by the private sector are being attracted to that sector," says Linda Chin, vice president for planning and marketing at the Cambridge Hospital Community Health Network.

From the city's perspective, the underrepresentation of minorities at the top of the city government hierarchy is a function of few openings and a low turnover rate.

"The core problem is there aren't vacancies that arise all that frequently," says Michael P. Gardner, the city's director of personnel and labor relations. But Gardner adds: "When a vacancy does arise, it's incumbent on us to be sure that the manager has the opportunity to consider a broad range of applicants."

Civil Service

As chief of the city's administration and finances, Healy is often blamed for the for the underrepresentation of minorities in Cambridge's bureaucracy.

Gardner, who heads the city's personnel office and is responsible for all city hiring except for School Department employees, has taken much of the flak.

Under Gardner is William A. Gomes, the city's affirmative action director.

Gomes has been in office since 1985, and oversaw the drafting of Cambridge's second affirmative action plan in 1991.

But neither Gomes nor Gardner has generated widespread support for the program, they criticized the aministrators for their lack of energetic recruiting.

"We have chosen people with the least energy to be responsible for affirmative action," Reeves says.

In defense of their records, Gardner and Healy point out that the city has met its affirmative action goals in six of the eight Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) categories set up by thefederal government.

Minorities are underrepresented particularlyunderrepresented among officials andadministrators, of whom only 11 percent areminority and protective-service workers, 22.7percent of whom are minority.

The city's goal for minority officials is 13.1percent of the total, and for police and fire,25.5 percent of the total, But some say the goalsfor each EEO category distort the real picture.

For example, Cambridge's goal for minorityofficials, 13.1 percent, is based on nationallabor-market participation by minorities inexecutive, administrative and managerialpositions, derived from census data. That figureis still well below the 28.4 percent of the citythat is Black, Hispanic or Asian.

In other words, even if the city attains itsgoals in the EEO categories, minorities will stillbe underrepresented in some of the highest paidand most powerful city jobs.

"The areas in which there remain matters ofunderrepresentation including hiring persons ofHispanic and Asian descent, and in hiring in theofficials and administrators category, and in thedepartment head or policy-making level," Gardnersays.

"We as a city are not deficient," agrees Gomes."The only deficiencies we have is [with] officialsand administrators."

"Given all the progress that's been made, it'sunderstandable that the criticism is directed atthe higher-level positions," Gardner says, adding,"My sense is that the city is well ahead of mostpublic institutions in the community in terms ofthe progress is has achieved."

Gardner notes that approximately 75 percent ofall city jobs are regulated by civil servicerequirements set up by the state and administeredby the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission,Essentially, his hands are tied by governmentmandates, he says.

Although civil service regulations weredesigned to prevent corruption and patronage, theyseem to have the unintended effect of restrictingthe city's efforts to find qualified minorities.

"Civil service rules very carefully control theordering of Candidates on a list," Gardner says."Instead of being able to select 100 resumes andfilter them out ourselves...if you're filling onejob, you get three names and that's all you get."

But minority residents, while acknowledging therestrictions, say the civil service system isitself unsupportive of diverse hiring.

Lee says many minority teenagers don't knowabout the exams, although the situation isimproving.

"When I was growing up in Cambridge and duringhigh school years, minority students were nevertold about the importance of taking the civilservice exams," he says. "But there were numerouswhite kids who were encouraged to take it andlater on you would find they have positions incivil service."

Graham agrees. "By the time Blacks knew aboutcivil service, they were something like 16,000 onthe list," she says. Thus, she says, minoritiesare often kept from promotion by seniority rulesand lack of information.

Occasionally, other barriers combine with civilservice requirements to prevent deliberateminority hiring. "We don't necessarily know theracial identity of any candidates till they'reselected for an interview," Gardner says.

By the time the applicants are winnowed down tothe finalists, there are often no minoritycandidates.

In the last round, only two minority finalistsemerged out of eight finalists and 176 totalapplicants. One minority of 11 was a finalist, outof 93 total applicants, for the post of trafficdirector. And no minorities were among the eightfinalists, picked from 43 total applicants, forassistant city manager for community development.

Recruiting and Residency

Cambridge's second "Affirmative Action Plan forCity Employment," drafted in 1991, calls foraggressive outreach and recruitment of minoritiesfor top administrative jobs.

"Meaningful recruitment is more than passiveadvertising in a newspaper or a public affairscable channel," the plan reads. "It is especiallyimportant to seek persons whose interests rest inpublic service or those who seek career pathswhere their skills...will be appreciated."

Yet minority residents interviewed said theydid not think the city's efforts to find qualifiedminorities are adequate.

"There are a lot of qualified minorities outthere and they just who is a Republican. "Whenpositions are being posted in the city, theyshould be posted in the minority community so wecan know they are available."

Asked to describe the range of recruitmentefforts the personnel uses, however, Gardner didnot cite very many. "We advertise in all the localpress and press that has significant minorityreadership," he says. "We send out notices tocommunity agencies announcing significantpositions."

"We encourage departments to do the samething," Gardner continues.

In addition, the affirmative action officewrites "letters to various city councillors" andmaintains a resource list more than 100 employmentand training agencies. Gomes says he is updatingand expanding the list to include more than 400.

Recruitment is often made difficult by thetechnical knowledge required for jobs such aswater or public works. In such departments,wide-spread advertising is sometimes impracticalbecause only minorities with specialized know-howcan apply.

"Some of these jobs are very specialized interms of the mix of experience and educationneeded for them," Gardner says.

Critics are calling for more aggressivetactics.

"They have to look at home-grown talent," saysOgletree, who spoke at the City Council meeting onMay 1 when the NAACP presented its demands.

"Students...have not found meaningfulemployment opportunities," he adds. "[Cityemployment officials] should be at the high schoolevery day and at area colleges, encouraging localtalent to stay here and take up localopportunities."

Thompson agrees, saying the personneldepartment's efforts have been at best onlyhalf-hearted.

"They have not put the outreach in to thecommunity to get it done," Thompson says.

Also emerging in the debate is a dispute overthe impact of a proposed residency requirement onthe city's affirmative-action policies.

Sponsored by Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr.,the residency requirement would not apply tocurrent city employees, but would require futureemployees to move into Cambridge within one yearof being hired, The ordinance is intended to keepresidents in the city, where presumably they willspend money and also be more enthusiastic abouttheir work because of its direct impact.

But some residents fear that forcing employeesto live in the city will only shrink the pool oftalented minorities from which to draw.

They point out that many of the currentminority administrators were recruited from out oftown. Anderson, for example, served as policechief in Miami before coming to Cambridge in 1991.

"It will erode the ability of the city toattract top talent," says Councillor Francis H.Duehay '55, who opposes the idea. "I am in generalfavor of employees living in the society, but I'mnot in favor of requiring it.

Gardner feels the requirement would make hisjob harder. "Any restrictions you put on themanager's discretion makes it harder to ultimatelyhire who you want or the person you think would bebest for the job," he said. Lee, the historyteacher, says the proposed exemptions to therequirement would only be used to keep minoritiesout.

"If the conservatives were serious about thisresidency requirement, they would make Bob Healylive in the city," Lee says. "But they're notserious." Healy lives in Lowell.

Foxx agrees, saying the city has become tooexpensive to live in. "Under the currentconditions of the housing stock in Cambridge, whatthe residency requirement would do is effectivelycut out a large portion of the minority hiringpool," he says.

"It's a complicated issue," Ogletree says. "Onthe one hand, it is a powerful argument thatpeople who live in the city should have priorityin getting job opportunities, but...you don't wantto penalize citizens of color from [another] cityor county who are qualified for the job."

The NAACP and the Future

The platform advocated by the NAACP on May 1 isa paradox. It may provide the key to a morediverse city work force, but it has alreadyengendered enough opposition to make enactment ofany of its six points difficult, if notimpossible.

The plan calls for the reorganization of theaffirmative action office under the mayor and CityCouncil, not the city manager. It calls forGardner's reassignment and the appointment of anew personnel director, and the appointment of aminority deputy city manager.

Also proposed are a new study of managerialappointments; the setting-aside of a quota of cityconstruction for minority-owned firms, and anintern program for Cambridge Rindge and LatinSchool students to work in municipal departments.

"The trouble with Mr. Gomes is that he'sreports to the city manager," Thompson says. "Howmuch can he report is wrong with the city managerwhen he's reporting to the city manager?"

Right now, the NAACP is waiting to meet withthe city manager to discuss the six points. If thepast record of complaint and response holds true,however, the status quo is unlikely to change: thefundamental structure adopted in the 1991 plancalls for growth--but slowly and gradually.

"I don't take their criticism lightly," Gomessays. "If it's bending over backward and makingaccommodations, the city is willing to do that.

Minorities are underrepresented particularlyunderrepresented among officials andadministrators, of whom only 11 percent areminority and protective-service workers, 22.7percent of whom are minority.

The city's goal for minority officials is 13.1percent of the total, and for police and fire,25.5 percent of the total, But some say the goalsfor each EEO category distort the real picture.

For example, Cambridge's goal for minorityofficials, 13.1 percent, is based on nationallabor-market participation by minorities inexecutive, administrative and managerialpositions, derived from census data. That figureis still well below the 28.4 percent of the citythat is Black, Hispanic or Asian.

In other words, even if the city attains itsgoals in the EEO categories, minorities will stillbe underrepresented in some of the highest paidand most powerful city jobs.

"The areas in which there remain matters ofunderrepresentation including hiring persons ofHispanic and Asian descent, and in hiring in theofficials and administrators category, and in thedepartment head or policy-making level," Gardnersays.

"We as a city are not deficient," agrees Gomes."The only deficiencies we have is [with] officialsand administrators."

"Given all the progress that's been made, it'sunderstandable that the criticism is directed atthe higher-level positions," Gardner says, adding,"My sense is that the city is well ahead of mostpublic institutions in the community in terms ofthe progress is has achieved."

Gardner notes that approximately 75 percent ofall city jobs are regulated by civil servicerequirements set up by the state and administeredby the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission,Essentially, his hands are tied by governmentmandates, he says.

Although civil service regulations weredesigned to prevent corruption and patronage, theyseem to have the unintended effect of restrictingthe city's efforts to find qualified minorities.

"Civil service rules very carefully control theordering of Candidates on a list," Gardner says."Instead of being able to select 100 resumes andfilter them out ourselves...if you're filling onejob, you get three names and that's all you get."

But minority residents, while acknowledging therestrictions, say the civil service system isitself unsupportive of diverse hiring.

Lee says many minority teenagers don't knowabout the exams, although the situation isimproving.

"When I was growing up in Cambridge and duringhigh school years, minority students were nevertold about the importance of taking the civilservice exams," he says. "But there were numerouswhite kids who were encouraged to take it andlater on you would find they have positions incivil service."

Graham agrees. "By the time Blacks knew aboutcivil service, they were something like 16,000 onthe list," she says. Thus, she says, minoritiesare often kept from promotion by seniority rulesand lack of information.

Occasionally, other barriers combine with civilservice requirements to prevent deliberateminority hiring. "We don't necessarily know theracial identity of any candidates till they'reselected for an interview," Gardner says.

By the time the applicants are winnowed down tothe finalists, there are often no minoritycandidates.

In the last round, only two minority finalistsemerged out of eight finalists and 176 totalapplicants. One minority of 11 was a finalist, outof 93 total applicants, for the post of trafficdirector. And no minorities were among the eightfinalists, picked from 43 total applicants, forassistant city manager for community development.

Recruiting and Residency

Cambridge's second "Affirmative Action Plan forCity Employment," drafted in 1991, calls foraggressive outreach and recruitment of minoritiesfor top administrative jobs.

"Meaningful recruitment is more than passiveadvertising in a newspaper or a public affairscable channel," the plan reads. "It is especiallyimportant to seek persons whose interests rest inpublic service or those who seek career pathswhere their skills...will be appreciated."

Yet minority residents interviewed said theydid not think the city's efforts to find qualifiedminorities are adequate.

"There are a lot of qualified minorities outthere and they just who is a Republican. "Whenpositions are being posted in the city, theyshould be posted in the minority community so wecan know they are available."

Asked to describe the range of recruitmentefforts the personnel uses, however, Gardner didnot cite very many. "We advertise in all the localpress and press that has significant minorityreadership," he says. "We send out notices tocommunity agencies announcing significantpositions."

"We encourage departments to do the samething," Gardner continues.

In addition, the affirmative action officewrites "letters to various city councillors" andmaintains a resource list more than 100 employmentand training agencies. Gomes says he is updatingand expanding the list to include more than 400.

Recruitment is often made difficult by thetechnical knowledge required for jobs such aswater or public works. In such departments,wide-spread advertising is sometimes impracticalbecause only minorities with specialized know-howcan apply.

"Some of these jobs are very specialized interms of the mix of experience and educationneeded for them," Gardner says.

Critics are calling for more aggressivetactics.

"They have to look at home-grown talent," saysOgletree, who spoke at the City Council meeting onMay 1 when the NAACP presented its demands.

"Students...have not found meaningfulemployment opportunities," he adds. "[Cityemployment officials] should be at the high schoolevery day and at area colleges, encouraging localtalent to stay here and take up localopportunities."

Thompson agrees, saying the personneldepartment's efforts have been at best onlyhalf-hearted.

"They have not put the outreach in to thecommunity to get it done," Thompson says.

Also emerging in the debate is a dispute overthe impact of a proposed residency requirement onthe city's affirmative-action policies.

Sponsored by Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr.,the residency requirement would not apply tocurrent city employees, but would require futureemployees to move into Cambridge within one yearof being hired, The ordinance is intended to keepresidents in the city, where presumably they willspend money and also be more enthusiastic abouttheir work because of its direct impact.

But some residents fear that forcing employeesto live in the city will only shrink the pool oftalented minorities from which to draw.

They point out that many of the currentminority administrators were recruited from out oftown. Anderson, for example, served as policechief in Miami before coming to Cambridge in 1991.

"It will erode the ability of the city toattract top talent," says Councillor Francis H.Duehay '55, who opposes the idea. "I am in generalfavor of employees living in the society, but I'mnot in favor of requiring it.

Gardner feels the requirement would make hisjob harder. "Any restrictions you put on themanager's discretion makes it harder to ultimatelyhire who you want or the person you think would bebest for the job," he said. Lee, the historyteacher, says the proposed exemptions to therequirement would only be used to keep minoritiesout.

"If the conservatives were serious about thisresidency requirement, they would make Bob Healylive in the city," Lee says. "But they're notserious." Healy lives in Lowell.

Foxx agrees, saying the city has become tooexpensive to live in. "Under the currentconditions of the housing stock in Cambridge, whatthe residency requirement would do is effectivelycut out a large portion of the minority hiringpool," he says.

"It's a complicated issue," Ogletree says. "Onthe one hand, it is a powerful argument thatpeople who live in the city should have priorityin getting job opportunities, but...you don't wantto penalize citizens of color from [another] cityor county who are qualified for the job."

The NAACP and the Future

The platform advocated by the NAACP on May 1 isa paradox. It may provide the key to a morediverse city work force, but it has alreadyengendered enough opposition to make enactment ofany of its six points difficult, if notimpossible.

The plan calls for the reorganization of theaffirmative action office under the mayor and CityCouncil, not the city manager. It calls forGardner's reassignment and the appointment of anew personnel director, and the appointment of aminority deputy city manager.

Also proposed are a new study of managerialappointments; the setting-aside of a quota of cityconstruction for minority-owned firms, and anintern program for Cambridge Rindge and LatinSchool students to work in municipal departments.

"The trouble with Mr. Gomes is that he'sreports to the city manager," Thompson says. "Howmuch can he report is wrong with the city managerwhen he's reporting to the city manager?"

Right now, the NAACP is waiting to meet withthe city manager to discuss the six points. If thepast record of complaint and response holds true,however, the status quo is unlikely to change: thefundamental structure adopted in the 1991 plancalls for growth--but slowly and gradually.

"I don't take their criticism lightly," Gomessays. "If it's bending over backward and makingaccommodations, the city is willing to do that.

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