City Officials Discuss Race Relations

Discrimination charges concern residents

The Cambridge city officials answered charges of discrimination leveled against the City Manager's office Monday night at a public hearing on the state of race relations in the city's employment ranks.

When Rachel Seymour, an intern in the city manager's office, addressed the council, City Hall's Sullivan Chamber was filled nearly to capacity with city employees of color and their supporters.

"I come before you today as a woman of color, a newcomer--not a native Cantabrigian--and I want to tell you that I've been shown nothing but respect in the city manager's office and seen nothing but respect shown toward other city employees," Seymour said.

Monday night's public hearing was prompted by a number of resignations and official complaints filed by high-ranking women of color who claim the city management has shown them discriminatory treatment in the workplace.

Seymour's remarks indicated, however, that not all employees from underrepresented groups agree that the city creates a "hostile racial atmosphere," as councilor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 had suggested earlier.

"I believe that I'm in a unique position to let the public know...that the people in the city manager's office have no lack of resolve in dealing with the issues you are speaking to tonight," Seymour said. "You are not so far apart as people would have you believe."

Unlike most of the other speakers, whose addresses were punctuated by applause, Seymour returned to her seat amid silence and a few scattered snorts.

Of the six highest-ranking women of color in the city administration, three have filed charges with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in the past year, and a fourth resigned last month.

City Councilors Reeves and Kathleen Triantafillou addressed the council on behalf of the plaintiffs, along with members of the school committee.

School committee member Robin Harris, also a woman of color, said she believed discrimination in city administration has been an ongoing phenomenon. Last year, when the newly-hired principal of the Agassiz Elementary School left her post before her first year was up, Harris said she believed discrimination was at the root of the conflict.

"I had to contemplate quitting the school committee and heading up a class action suit...and I have to say that is still a possibility," she said.

Doreen L. Wade, a woman of color and a former member of the Police Board, said that discrimination is not only ongoing but widespread.

"The problem of employment is especially acute for young black men. They get put on employment lists, and they sit on lists for year after year while young white men are getting hired," she said.

In other city business, the council voted after much discussion to appropriate $2 million to the Open Space Acquisition Fund to purchase lots to be used as parks and recreational spaces.

Some councilors hailed the decision as a commitment to improve and maintain the quality of life of Cambridge neighborhoods as the city's booming economy attracts ever more commercial development.

"The fact that the only park mentioned in this whole discussion located in East Cambridge is University Park, and that just reinforces once again the overwhelming need for open space in that neighborhood," Timothy J. Toomey said. "Cambridgeport and East Cambridge have the lowest amount of open space and that's where all the commercial development is taking place--that's just wrong."

Councilors Reeves and Triantafillou expressed their unease at the possibility that taxes would have to be raised or projects cut in FY2000 as a result of the measure, but Triantafillou eventually voted for the bill while Reeves was recorded as present.