NAACP seeks independent affirmative action officer

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PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire NAACP chapter wants to amend the city's Affirmative Action Policy and Plan to allow someone other than the personnel director to serve as the affirmative action officer.

In an April 15 letter to the city's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee and Mayor Linda M. Tyer, attorney Ethan Klepetar, of Smith Green & Gold, said NAACP members "feel strongly that these responsibilities should be in the purview of someone other than the personnel director. By separating the positions of the personnel director and the [affirmative action officer], we can add additional checks and balances to the system, and create independent oversight of the city's affirmative action efforts."

The committee, which reviewed the NAACP request during its quarterly meeting on Wednesday, is expected to discuss the AA position, along with a proposal to seek grant funding for the post during its August meeting, Chairwoman Mary McGinnis said.

In his letter, Klepetar noted an affirmative action ordinance adopted in 2015 by the City Council allows the affirmative action officer "to be someone other than the city's personnel director," but the much longer and more detailed AA Policy and Plan still contains references to "the Affirmative Action Officer/Personnel Director."

Committee member Jeffrey Hunt said there remains a need to clearly define the position, which once was referred to as a "receiver" and now apparently is considered to be either the personnel director or the mayor, and to make sure the policy and the ordinance have the same language.

NAACP chapter President Dennis Powell, who attended the committee meeting, said a principal concern of the organization's members is that the person designated as affirmative action officer have some independence from the city administration.

And committee members cited a desire to have someone designated solely to that task, which also involves keeping abreast of state and federal civil rights and fair employment legislation and policy, and ensuring affirmative action training is available for department heads and employees are aware of the requirements and related information.

McGinnis served as the city's director of administrative services while the Affirmative Action Policy and Plan — which dated to the 1990s but had been lain dormant for years — was being reactivated. She said she learned that federal funding for at least a few years for an affirmative action officer position might be available.

She said the Bianchi administration did not seek funding from that source, but she proposed asking Tyer to do so now and discussing the idea a the committee's August meeting.

The position "is a full-time job," said committee member Lenny Kates, adding that there is a need to "build up a compendium of information" on affirmative action policies, laws, related issues and other information and data.

McGinnis said that while the city still has much to do to meet the goal of a city and school system workforce that reflects the make-up of the community, "this has been such a turnaround from what it used to be. Even though we are not where we want to be, we are making strides."

The chairwoman also thanked the NAACP "for being the squeaky wheel to get this going."

Efforts to revive the policy, plan and advisory committee came after former NAACP chapter President Will Singleton, now a member of the committee, asked former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in 2012 if the city had ever adopted an affirmative action plan.

Bianchi later appointed the advisory group and soon after revived and appointed a city Human Rights Commission, which also had been created in the 1990s but had been dormant for more than a decade.

In reporting on city hiring for the quarter, Personnel Director Michael Taylor said Wednesday Pittsfield continues to have difficulty finding enough qualified candidates to fill open positions that require licenses or certifications, such as in the water or sewer departments.

Concerning public safety positions that require candidates to take Civil Service exams, Powell noted that the tests cost more than $200 and are not given locally, which he said presents obstacles for some minority job-seekers. The test scores also only remain active for a specific time period before tests must be taken again to keep the person on a civil service list of candidates.

Committee member Daniel Swift suggested approaching business organizations or other entities to help with funding for testing or in overcoming other certification obstacles.

Taylor said he is planning an employment-related outreach event for late June involving Berkshire Community College, BerkshireWorks and other entities to provide information on certification and licensing requirements and training and education options.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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