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Groups promote diversity in Longview workplaces

By Jimmy Isaac
Oct. 31, 2011 at 10 p.m.

Carlos Samples wants to figure how to motivate females and racial minority employees in Longview municipal agencies to seek promotion.

"I don't have the answer to that. I wish I could flip a switch to figure out why," said Samples, a black Longview police sergeant. "Some people don't want to move up."

In at least the past four years, city agencies such as police and fire departments have tried myriad ways to foster diversity, from cadet programs and training to hiring policy changes and up-front tuition payments for career advancement. Local volunteers and municipal workers and administrators heralded those efforts when they met for lunch at Maude Cobb Activity Center on Monday.

The joint meeting of City Manager David Willard's Applicant Diversity Team and the Race Relations Committee's Diversity Advisory Council ended with a 15-minute group discussion about the city's next steps, and why some Longview employees are not taking available steps to promotion and better pay.

"I think, if the door is open, people will realize sooner or later that the door is open," Samples said.

No solutions arose Monday. Willard said city administrators are visiting with directors of each city department for "enlightening on how they hire people, and any suggestions."

Community Services Coordinator Dietrich Johnson said efforts from the two groups that met Monday have provided a two-fold purpose: it allowed the city to examine indicators that brought it to this point in diversity enhancement, and it helped the city find ways to shift its culture to bring more diversity without implementing quotas or affirmative action tools.

Paul Rosemblum, a Diversity Advisory Council member, said he was concerned after a recent round of general knowledge exams for application into Longview Fire Department. Not one of "15 people of color" passed the test, Rosenblum said. Human Resources Director Karri Hyko said the test is validated by the U.S. Fire Administration and that it is key that applicants have the necessary skills for the job, but the city offers at least one tutorial the weekend before the examination.

"We're trying to knock down any barriers that there might be," Hyko said.

The police department loses many of its applicants during background checks, particularly when the applicant tells a lie, Samples added. Even one lie terminates a person's ability to work for police, because it taints their possible testimony in a criminal hearing, he said.

Hyko's council-approved amendment to the city's Tuition Reimbursement Program allows employees earning less than $35,500 to receive payment in advance for college tuition to obtain a degree. One member of the Applicant Diversity Team, Sondra Crawford, a municipal delivery employee, is taking four college courses weekly under the amendment.

"I think this is an incredible opportunity," said Steve Crane, a Diversity Advisory Council member. "Other communities have a tendency to kind of ignore the problem and end up handling it in adversarial ways ... I believe in what we're doing. I believe it's important, not only for our employees but also for our citizens."



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