PITTSFIELD -- Administration officials are seeking to counter criticism over the pace of action on the city’s affirmative action policy and plan.

"I think we’ve done a lot in a short time," Mary McGinnis, the city’s director of administrative services, said Friday. She is coordinating the revival of Pittsfield’s dormant Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, which has begun meeting and is updating a policy that dates to the 1990s but was found collecting dust on a shelf last summer only after a search at City Hall.

That search was prompted by Will Singleton, president of the local NAACP chapter, who asked if the city had such a policy. Chapter members have been critical of city and school hiring practices, which have resulted in a low percentage of minority employees in municipal government and school positions.

In recent letters to The Eagle, group members also called for swifter formal adoption of the updated policy and plan.

But Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, Personnel Director John DeAngelo and McGinnis said that, while significant change will take time, there has been progress over the past year. They said that criticism from Singleton and others because the affirmative action plan hasn’t been formally re-adopted is misplaced. Only minor details are still being reviewed, McGinnis said, and the city essentially has been following major elements in the 37-page plan since last year.

"I think we have made great strides," Bianchi said. "We’ve had more progress in a year than in the last 30 years."

The mayor added that participation by the NAACP, which has declined to send a representative to the advisory committee or to review and comment on the plan revisions, would be "more than welcome." He said that would be more effective than offering criticism from outside the process.

Among revisions and updates to the affirmative action plan are references to veterans that now include those of all conflicts or eras and updates to reflect changes in state or federal policies or regulations since the 1990s.

McGinnis said she expects the plan will be sent to the City Council for re-adoption in late April. And she and Bianchi are working on a list of appointees to the dormant city Human Rights Commission for submission to the council within the next month.

Most of the seven commission nominees have been selected, she said. The group, which is authorized to investigate complaints of discrimination, includes five mayoral appointees, the council president or a designee and the school system personnel director of a designee.

"I think it will be a good commission," Bianchi said. "It will address things that need to be addressed."

The rights commission also was formed in the 1990s, but it has been inactive for years. The most recent appointees have terms listed on the city website as ending in 1999 or earlier.

Concerning city hiring, which was the principal issue raised by the NAACP, DeAngelo and Michael Taylor of the Personnel Department said the figures on minority applicants and hiring show a positive trend since September.

"I feel we’re moving in the right direction," DeAngelo said. "Obviously, we can do more, but I think we are working hard to have a work force that reflects our community."

He said changes in job posting and advertising city positions have significantly increased the number of minority applications. "Generally, we are seeing about 12 to 15 percent of applicants are minorities," he said.

Michael Taylor, of the Personnel Department, said online posting of job openings and automatic notifications sent to colleges, groups like the NAACP and other entities has greatly increased applications among minorities and overall.

The city now also asks minority applicants to provide that information, which is deleted after the numbers are recorded.

From August 2013 to April 1, DeAngelo said, six of the 25 city positions filled went to minority applicants.

In addition, he said, Bianchi has asked to review each hire before it becomes final for adherence to the affirmative action hiring goals.

The 14-member Advisory Committee, which includes six city or school officials and representatives of several groups or organizations, is charged with reviewing hiring policies for possible changes and with reviewing the city’s record of minority hiring. The group meets next on May 21 at City Hall.

Affirmative action training for department heads and others likewise has begun, McGinnis said, and another session is set for May 7.

DeAngelo said department heads also have begun to develop affirmative action goals and department plans for increasing minority hiring.

To reach Jim Therrien:

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