Our Opinion: Pittsfield wide open to NAACP charges
The allegations by the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP that Pittsfield violated regulations pertaining to hiring and affirmative action to the detriment of minorities will play themselves out in the weeks and months ahead before the appropriate state and federal agencies. What seems clear, however, is that the city has long ignored the issues the NAACP is rightly concerned about and is now scrambling to play catch-up ball.
The city's affirmative action policy has evidently been collecting dust somewhere for two decades and is currently being updated by the newly re-established Affirmative Action Advisory Committee. That means that something good will come out of the NAACP's complaint but something bad may as well if the city is required to pay fines or other penalties.
In its complaint filed with two state and two federal agencies, the NAACP asserts that the city was "required to have an affirmative action policy in place" and that "It appears to not have been enforced for possibly two decades by the city of Pittsfield." That the city had an affirmative action policy in cold storage somewhere may or may not constitute having a policy "in place," but it seems obvious that the policy has not been enforced given that it could be produced immediately when Will Singleton, president of the local NAACP chapter, inquired about it.
The NAACP alleges that less than 2 percent of school employees, or 10 in total, are minorities, an alarmingly low number. Allegations that qualified African-American teaching applicants were passed over unfairly and that an African-American paraprofessional at Conte Community School in 2011 had her position eliminated after being subjected to a hostile work environment are worrisome. Unfortunately Pittsfield is not immune to racism, and Pittsfield's evident failure to enforce anything resembling an affirmative action policy for a couple of decades leaves it wide open to these charges.
Pittsfield and Berkshire County are not particularly diverse ethnically, though that has begun to change in recent years. When it comes to hiring minorities, the city, which the NAACP observes in its complaint has been accepting state and federal grant funds, had an obligation to recruit qualified minority candidates for employment. It doesn't appear that it has done that in the last 20 or so years and it is possible that in some cases qualified minority candidates have been discouraged. Pittsfield may be on the way to improving its practices but there could be a penalty to pay for failing to do so sooner.
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