PITTSFIELD -- Members of the City Council expressed support Tuesday for reversing the city's admittedly poor record of recruiting and hiring minority candidates for municipal and school positions.
NAACP chapter President Will Singleton asked councilors for that commitment and specifically to formally adopt Pittsfield's long-dormant affirmative action policy and 37-page plan.
Chapter members also gave a presentation with projected slides showing statistics on hiring, income and encounters with the criminal justice system they said need to be addressed.
"We request that you adopt it, and along with the mayor, implement it," Singleton said.
While some "get upset" when there is talk of affirmative action, he said, "We think it is an effective tool to bring about diversity and fairness."
Recognizing the difficulties involved, Singleton said the first step should be to adopt the affirmative action plan and policy being revised by the city's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee. The 11-member committee also was revived last year with new appointees.
The plan was first adopted in 1991, said city Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis, who has coordinated the effort. Singleton sparked a scramble by city officials last year when he asked whether there was a plan, and it took time for officials to locate a copy of it.
There has been progress, McGinnis told councilors, but added, "We have only just begun to change the culture."
Councilors expressed support for the effort or asked questions about how changes might be implemented.
"I think it's critical in the schools," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol. He said there should be a particular effort there, as it has been estimated students of color comprise more than 20 percent of enrollment but there are few teachers or other employees who could be role models.
"The city needs to lead on this," said Councilor at large Barry Clairmont. "It needs to grab this by the horns and correct inequities."
Asked about the affirmative action policy, McGinnis said the committee was formed in the fall and has been reviewing the policy and doing research aimed at possible updates or revisions. In addition, the committee has worked with personnel departments in the city and school system to encourage wider recruitment of job candidates, especially where minority applicants might be found, and has begun keeping statistics on applicants.
In his presentation, Singleton, a retired educator who worked in other states, outlined how the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP was reorganized in December 2012 after itself being dormant for several years. He said that effort grew from discussion focusing on the lack of "faces that look like us" at City Hall and within the Pittsfield school system.
Asked if there are accurate statistics on city employment levels, Singleton and NAACP member Judy Williamson said there are approximately five African-American and four Hispanic teachers among the 600 in Pittsfield schools, and about 31 employees of color among all school positions.
"That's unacceptable," Singleton said.
Among municipal positions, Singleton reiterated that one of his first impressions after returning to his home town several years ago was the lack of any clerks or other persons of color at City Hall, or in other public agencies around Pittsfield.
"The NAACP is saying, ‘Let's stop this," Singleton said. "Let's be proactive and achieve racial balance. There will be benefits for everybody."
There is more diversity in the larger U.S. economy, he said, and if Pittsfield is seen as unwelcoming to minority job-seekers and those who already employ many, that could discourage firms from locating or expanding here.
He also talked about institutionalized racism, describing it as not the intent of most in the system but a reality that can develop without a concerted effort to change the status quo. There has to be a switch from trying the manage the problem, he said, such as through social service agencies and the criminal justice system, toward providing real employment opportunities for people of color in Pittsfield.
Currently, the chapter members said, there also is a "school to prison pipeline" for a disproportionate percentage of African-American youth that also must be broken before progress can be made.
Singleton and others said an important factor is keeping the hiring process transparent so that the figures on how many minority applicants applied and how many were hired becomes public.
"I hope the plan has some measurable objectives," said Councilor at large Churchill Cotton. "It must have accountable measurements."
Singleton also addressed the discrimination complaints the NAACP chapter filed against the city in November with state and federal agencies.
"We felt we were getting rhetoric, not results," he said, adding that while he wants the group's efforts to be judged by results, the same should be true of city and school officials.
He has said the chapter will reserve further comment until receiving responses from the agencies. Bianchi has said he believes the city is showing its commitment to affirmative action through the policy and the advisory committee, a group of citizens that will periodically review hiring in the city and help set goals and guidelines for increasing minority employment.
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