Gainesville's Equal Opportunity Office hobbled, Braddy says

Gainesville Equal Opportunity Director Cecil Howard, second from left in this Jan. 24, 2012 file photo, is shown talking with former City Attorney Marion Radson.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 17, 2013 at 2:07 p.m.

At Gainesville City Hall, the mayor is questioning if the Office of Equal Opportunity has been marginalized in the city's hiring and promotion processes.

The scrutiny was sparked by the promotion of a district fire chief late last year over the objections of Equal Opportunity Officer Cecil Howard, who cited a lack of diversity in the department's upper ranks.

In December, Howard told Fire Chief Gene Prince he would not approve a Personnel Requisition Action Form for the position. That paperwork initiates the hiring process for a vacant position and details the steps used to fill a vacancy, including the recruitment of minority candidates for positions with affirmative action goals.

While it is illegal to mandate the hiring of a minority, laws prevent discrimination and city policies require an effort to recruit minority candidates for positions where diversity is deemed to be lacking. Those are areas the Office of Equal Opportunity reviews.

The fire department's minority recruitment is focused on entry-level positions on the premise those employees will move up through the ranks over time. But Howard said the district chief position was a mid-management-level post for which the city had minority recruitment goals.

He would not sign off on the requisition form, or PRAF, because the promotion was going to a white man when there were minority candidates on the department's promotion list.

In the months after that disagreement, City Manager Russ Blackburn removed the authority of the equal opportunity officer to approve or deny the personnel requisition forms in question.

Late Thursday afternoon, Mayor Ed Braddy sent out a news release to say Blackburn had removed Howard from a “critical oversight role” and that he planned to press the City Commission to discuss the issue at its June 20 meeting.

Braddy said that, as charter officers who report directly to the City Commission, the city manager and equal opportunity officer are on equal footing.

In one of multiple quotes he included in his news release, Braddy said his issue was the potential of a “cooperative process becoming confrontational because one charter officer has impacted the ability of another charter officer to carry out his duties.”

“My concern is not who ultimately gets hired,” Braddy said in an interview Friday. “The concern is one charter officer had the scope of his responsibility significantly diminished.”

In an email to the Human Resources Department last week, Howard said his office had been “kicked out of” the process for approving hiring requisition forms -- and that, in his mind, violated the city's policies because he no longer could ensure a hiring process followed equal employment laws.

In the email, Howard said he planned to take the issue to the City Commission.

On Friday, Blackburn said that the use of the PRAF paperwork was an administrative process for staff and not something set by a City Commission policy.

He said the Office of Equal Opportunity still would be consulted on hiring decisions and could make recommendations and suggestions. But Blackburn noted that he and his department heads are ultimately responsible for hiring decisions.

Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said she has concerns that there might be a lack of diversity through much of the ranks of city government. She said a disparity study commissioners are considering -- at a potential cost in the range of $300,000 -- could provide definitive evidence if the city had a problem or not.

“If we do, we can give Cecil's office much more authority,” she said. “I'm failing to see how we are going to affect diversity if we have an Office of Equal Opportunity that has no real authority.”

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