EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

City's director search narrows


Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 12:16 a.m.
Gainesville's Equal Opportunity Department has had its share of scandals: allegations of illegal phone tapping, a police raid, a trial pitting top city officials against a former department employee and the firing of several employees.
Now, the Equal Opportunity Department - responsible for investigating claims of discrimination inside City Hall and throughout Gainesville - is being reorganized in hopes of avoiding the controversies of the past.
In a move approved by voters more than a year ago, the department will be headed by a director who responds only to the City Commission, not to the city manager.
That independence will give it more authority to make sometimes-controversial decisions without influence from other city officials, proponents of the new office say.
"We want to make sure that there is not the perception that the decisions are made with pressure from the supervisor," said City Commissioner Craig Lowe, who served on a committee that recommended the creation of the charter-level position years ago.
Despite the Equal Opportunity Department's rocky past, plenty of people are still interested in heading the office.
The City Commission will begin interviewing seven finalists for the newly created director's spot on Thursday and hope to make its choice on Feb. 9. In total, the search for a new Equal Opportunity director has taken almost a year and cost about $20,000.
The finalists were selected from a pool of about 95 applicants by a search firm hired by the city.
A committee of five Gainesville residents - each one appointed by a city commissioner, before the commission expanded to seven members last year - oversaw the search.
Pegeen Hanrahan, a member of the committee, said it's hard to put a finger on why so many people who have worked at the department have left or been fired "under difficult circumstances."
But choosing the new director is crucial, she said, because that person could work for the city for years to come. And as a charter officer, the new director also will be responsible for hiring and supervising all employees in the department.
"If you get the hiring right, everything else is easy. If you get the hiring wrong, everything else is a nightmare," Hanrahan said.
Finalists for the position are:
  • Josephier Brown, a contract compliance officer for Minneapolis.
  • Carol Crawley, a consultant for the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority and a consultant for the Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program in Tennessee.
  • Allen Martin, a human relations specialist for Lawrence, Kan.
  • Manus O'Donnell, director of the Department of Citizen Services for the Howard County Government in Columbia, Md.
  • James Packwood Jr., a Gainesville resident. Between 1998 and 2002, Packwood served as deputy district director of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity district office in New Orleans.
  • Bernard Porter, manager of Compliance and Diversity for the mayor's office in Houston.
  • Jimmie Williams, Gainesville's interim equal opportunity director. Williams served as the director from 2000 to early 2003, and then took the interim position when the commission decided to reorganize the department.
    "It's a very impressive field of candidates. There's a question of whether we had too many good candidates," Lowe said.
    The new director will earn between $60,000 and $75,000.
    An eighth candidate - Darrell Elmore, a former equal opportunity director who was fired and then sued the city in federal court - was dropped from the list of finalists because of his settlement with the city.
    Elmore, a former program coordinator with the Alachua County Equal Opportunity Office, was hired in 1998 to revive the department after it was closed in 1995.
    He was fired by City Manager Wayne Bowers in 2000 for insubordination, including not submitting written memos to Bowers before distribution to city officials and commissioners.
    In his settlement with the city, Elmore received $15,000 and agreed not to apply for a job with the city.
    Elmore, now a second year law student at the University of Florida, told the commission last month that he should still be a candidate. He says state law doesn't bind the City Commission to follow an agreement signed by the city manager.
    The commission voted 5-2 not to include Elmore in the pool of finalists.
    Warren Nielsen and Craig Lowe voting to include him; Ed Braddy, Rick Bryant, Tom Bussing, Chuck Chestnut and Tony Domenech voted against it.
    Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or rowlana@ gvillesun.com.
    FYI: Hiring schedule

    Thursday

  • 8 a.m.: Finalists begin 30-minute, one-on-one interviews with city commissioners.
  • 5 p.m.: Special City Commission meeting. Each candidate will have 30 minutes to make a presentation based on a hypothetical scenario they could face as Equal Opportunity Department director.
    10 to 11 p.m.: Citizen comment regarding the hiring decision.

    Friday

  • 8 to 10 a.m.: Breakfast reception at City Hall where the public, commissioners and staff can speak with the candidates in an informal setting. Meanwhile, the candidates will meet through noon with other charter officers and with the committee that organized the search process.
  • Noon: Lunch at the Alachua County headquarters library, 401 E. University Ave., fourth floor. The event is co-sponsored by Citizens for Equal Opportunity and Focus on Leadership. To attend, reserve a seat by calling 377-1636. Cost: $10.

    Feb. 9

  • 5:30 p.m.: During the evening part of the regular City Commission meeting, the commission is scheduled to discuss and vote on the hiring of a new Equal Opportunity Department director.
    Department being reorganized FYI: Gainesville's Equal Opportunity Department
  • 1989: Gainesville's Equal Opportunity Department combines two divisions to become the present-day agency that handles both internal and external discrimination complaints.
  • June 1992: Police raid the department office after City Attorney Marion Radson and then acting City Manager Karen Johnson complain that conversations were being illegally taped. Police confiscate records, change locks and close the office for several days. No evidence was found that conversations had been taped.
  • 1995: The city closes the department. A judge dismisses the last of several federal lawsuits filed against the city by former department employees that allege race discrimination and retaliation in connection with the department's history of problems.
  • 1998: The department is reopened with Darrell Elmore, a former employee in Alachua County's Equal Opportunity Office, as director.
  • Fall 2000: Elmore is fired for insubordination. Jimmie Williams is hired as his replacement.
  • August 2002: Equal Opportunity Officer Steve Malu is fired. Malu, who was responsible for recruiting minority and female job applicants for the city, claims he was discriminated against because he is from Nigeria. The city says he was insubordinate. Malu later filed a discrimination suit against the city, but a circuit judge ruled against it in late 2003.
  • November 2002: With 53 percent of voters supporting the move, Gainesville voters approved an amendment to the City Charter that elevates the equal opportunity director to the position of city manager or city attorney.
  • 2003: Jimmie Williams becomes the interim Equal Opportunity Department director while the city conducts its search for a charter-level director. He is now one of the finalists for the position.
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