Mayor Rejects Charges of Racism in Emeryville Government

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday April 13, 2007

In the wake of a multi-million dollar employment discrimination lawsuit settlement by the City of Emeryville and charges of further, widespread racial discrimination in City of Emeryville employment, the Mayor of Emeryville is defending her city’s minority hiring policies, and is rejecting a proposal that one councilmember hopes will solve employee disputes before they go to court. 

“The City of Emeryville has worked hard to put into place policies that treat all of our employees equitably and fairly,” Mayor Nora Davis said this week in a telephone interview. “But I don’t like to address the issue of race. We are all working together to restore this city from the destroyed industrial wasteland it once was. It’s unfortunate that these charges have been brought in such a way to divide people in Emeryville, black against white. It’s unfortunate that the city is being unfairly put in such a bad light.” 

Last week, after members of the Concerned Citizens for Change of Emeryville told the Emeryville City Council that African-American city workers were being discriminated against, asking for a full Council discussion of the issue, Councilmember Ken Bukowski had the matter placed on the Council’s May 1st agenda. 

One of the former employees presenting the request and discrimination information was former Emeryville City Planning Technician Leslie Pollard, who received a $3.6 million settlement from the city last month in her wrongful termination lawsuit. 

But Davis, in her telephone interview, said that the city is being unfairly charged. 

“Look at the composition of our city workforce,” she said. “Over 40 percent is African-American, even though only 18 percent of the city’s population is African-American. If people looked at the actual figures, they would see that the city is not discriminating in our hiring policies.” 

Davis said that other city actions show that Emeryville is paying attention to the needs of all races within the city. 

“Over the past several years, the City Council has been working very closely with the Emeryville Unified School District Board to improve our schools,” Davis said, citing a city land deal that helped Emery Unified pay off its debt to the state and get out-of-state receivership. “98 percent of the school district is minority, and an enormous amount of resources have come from the city to help the district out. We’re certainly not thinking about whether those students being helped are black, white, Latino, Asian, or anything else.” 

“Crying racism about Emeryville city government is not a true statement,” she said. 

Davis also threw cold water on Councilmember Bukowski’s proposal to have the City Council hear employee grievances after they have reached an impasse in the city manager’s office. Currently, such grievances go directly to arbitration, which can then lead to litigation. Bukowski said he believes the council could work out some of those differences before they got to court. 

“Mr. Bukowski does not seem to have a true appreciation of the council-manager form of government under which Emeryville operates,” Davis said. “Under our system, it’s the council’s job to set policy, and the city manager’s job to implement that policy, including personnel matters. When you begin to get politicians involved in personnel decisions, that’s where you start to get corruption. Mr. Bukowski knows my position on this. I’ve told him that, many times.”