Outside attorney: County manager did not discriminate in making his recent hiring selection

Published: Monday, August 1, 2011 at 5:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 1, 2011 at 5:14 p.m.

Alachua County Manager Randall Reid did not discriminate against any applicants in his selection of a new director for the Court Services Department, an outside employment attorney has concluded.

A County Commission vote on whether to confirm Reid's selection of the department's jail population manager, Tom Tonkavich, as the new director has been on hold since May 12 to allow for the legal review.

Based on the attorney's findings, a County Commission vote on Tonkavich's selection is on the draft agenda for the Aug. 9 meeting.

County Commissioner Rodney Long had scrutinized the process that led to the selection of Tonkavich, a white male. During a four-hour debate at the commission's May 12 meeting, Long and representatives of several local African-American civic organizations stated their belief that county government did not have an adequate track record of hiring and promoting minorities during Reid's tenure.

Long also questioned if the more stringent diversity recruitment policies commissioners put in place last year were followed, and he found that the last step those policies require had been omitted. Before making a job offer to Tonkavich, Reid did not consult with the county's Equal Opportunity officer on the candidate selection process.

Thomas M. Gonzalez, the Tampa-based attorney the county hired to review the process, separated the issue of adherence to county policies from the legal question of whether discrimination had occurred.

Gonzalez concluded that the county may adopt policies to attract and assemble a diverse applicant pool for a job, but that race or gender may not legally be the “substantial motivating factor” in hiring.

“As noted above, no matter how justified and righteous may be the determination of a public employer to have a workforce reflective of the population that the agency serves, it cannot make decisions based on that motivation,” Gonzalez wrote. “It can only take appropriate steps to (ensure) that equal opportunity has been afforded to all applicants.”

Gonzalez's five-page report said that the county's Equal Opportunity officer did review the candidate selection process after Reid made an offer to Tonkavich.

While that order of events did not comply with the county's policy, Gonzalez wrote that the equal opportunity review was “legally conducted at this stage of the proceedings … and is as effective as it would have been at an earlier point in the process.”

At the May 12 meeting, county Equal Opportunity Officer Jacqueline Chung said her review of the process raised “concerns” because a member of one of the county's targeted “underutilized” demographic groups in management — women — was among the finalists but was not selected.

Chung also noted that Tonkavich was selected over multiple Court Services Department employees with more experience.

They included two African-American men and an African-American woman.

Still, Chung said at that meeting that a diverse applicant pool had been assembled and that the final decision on the hire lay with Reid.

Because a diverse applicant pool had been assembled and vetted, including through that equal opportunity review, Gonzalez concluded that Reid “did not discriminate against any applicant” in the selection process.

In scrutinizing the process, Long also contacted other candidates who were interviewed and asked them to submit written comments on the process. Many were critical of Reid.

Gonzalez's report touched on that feedback.

“While the opinions of an unsuccessful candidate may be helpful in providing information that was ignored or discounted by the decision-maker, they do not assist the analysis when they consist of attempts to argue the weight that a decision-maker attributed to a certain factor or suggest factors which were not disclosed at the time the decision was made,” he wrote.

An attempt to reach Long via email for comment Monday was unsuccessful.

Through the end of June, county government had paid Gonzalez approximately $1,250 to conduct his review, and at least one additional payment will follow for work done in July, county spokesman Mark Sexton said.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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