Pittsfield's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee approves revised policy


PITTSFIELD -- The city's Affirmative Action Policy and Plan has been updated for the first time in two decades and is on its way to the desk of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

The Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, a group created as part of the plan, approved the revised, 38-page document Wednesday on a unanimous vote. The group recommended that the plan be sent to the City Council for re-adoption.

"I want to thank everybody for the work you did for almost a year," said Mary McGinnis, committee chairwoman. "The first leg of this is done."

Bianchi, who in the past has said he would submit the finished policy to the council, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

If the policy is formally approved by the mayor and council, it would complete an odyssey that began in the spring 2013. After members of the local chapter of the NAACP asked whether there was such a policy for Pittsfield, the plan was found "gathering dust," apparently not having been actively followed for years.

The policy was adopted in 1991, McGinnis said Wednesday, then revised in 1994.

The current version of the 12-person advisory committee, formed in October 2013, is charged with monitoring city hiring practices and related activities with the goal of adding diversity to Pittsfield's overwhelmingly white work force.

Members of the NAACP and others have noted there were only a half dozen African-American teachers among the 600 in city schools, despite a high percentage of students of color, and there apparently are no blacks working in City Hall offices.

Goals and committee duties listed in the policy include promotion of affirmative action training for supervisors; distribution of information on and hiring goals and hiring timetables; assessing grievance processes and providing explanations; undertaking work force analyses; reforming and enhancing recruitment and job-posting practices; assessing discipline policies, handicapped employment regulations, promotion, purchasing and contracting policies. Also, helping to establish a diverse city workforce, hearing regular progress reports from personnel officials; compiling hiring and related statistics, and coordinating efforts where applicable with the Human Rights Commission.

The committee on Wednesday also reviewed hiring and recruitment efforts after receiving reports from Michael Taylor of the city Personnel Department and Harry Hayes, human resources director in Pittsfield city schools.

Hayes said the schools are still trying to fill some open positions for the next school year, and he won't have firm figures on diversity until the committee's Nov. 19 meeting. But he said efforts to recruit from online sites that reach candidates of color, along with similar, companion efforts from city government, have expanded interest in employment here among minority job seekers.

Career centers at more than a dozen colleges in the region also were contacted directly to post information about job openings in Pittsfield schools, Hayes said.

Committee member Warren Dews Jr., referring to a prior discussion of traveling to traditionally African- American colleges to recruit graduates for teaching and other jobs in local schools, said he would volunteer for such an effort.

Dews, vice president of audience development, sales and marketing at New England Newspapers Inc., which includes The Berkshire Eagle, also offered to talk with personnel officers about free public service video spots and other free online services and Internet links through the media company.

Taylor said the number of job applications from minority candidates, which are now being tracked, has increased. The discussion led to ideas for cross-notifying as many department, agencies, organizations, businesses and business groups and religious groups as possible -- along with all of the committee members -- about job opportunities.

The committee also decided to pursue new collaborative efforts to promote and fund affirmative action training for department heads and other city employees, working with businesses and organizations that might be planning the same type of training.

The city has held two training sessions, the most recent in May, which cost $1,500.

Cecilia Rock, who also serves on the Human Rights Commission, another group revived recently by the Bianchi administration, urged collaboration on training with the commission, which she said is allowed under its enabling ordinance to accept funding for such purposes.

Committee member Eleanore Velez said the time also is right for the group to plan and promote more community outreach about what it has been doing and the progress that has been made.

"This has been quiet work, but it is important work," Velez said, adding that residents should be made aware of the progress and that the committee and the city have "demonstrated a commitment" to equal opportunity.

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