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Report Fails To Quell Furor Over Emeryville Discrimination

By J. Douglas
Friday May 04, 2007

An Emeryville City Manager’s report has concluded that the city does not discriminate against its African-American employees, but the City Council agreed Tuesday night with the city manager’s recommendation that an outside consultant should be hired to do a survey of possible morale problems within the city’s black workforce. 

But a podium-pounding President Alex Papillon of the Berkeley NAACP said that was not enough, and warned that if Emeryville City Council did not address and resolve the discrimination issue, “next time you may have 30 to 40 people shutting down the council meeting by sitting down here.” 

And the Concerned Citizens For Change, an Emeryville group that originally brought the discrimination charges to Council last March, accused the city of “tiptoeing” around the issue, and called on the city to institute a temporary moratorium on the termination of African-Americans and an investigation into the practices of the city’s Human Resources Department in addition to the hiring of the outside consultant. 

One of the members of the Concerned Citizens For Change, former Emeryville City Planning Technician Leslie Pollard, recently received a $3.6 million settlement from the city last month in her wrongful termination lawsuit. Pollard had alleged in her lawsuit that the City of Emeryville had engaged in anti-African-American racial discrimination in suspending her after 27 years of employment. 

In his report to the five-member council Tuesday night, which he called the result of “a thorough investigation of the allegations,” Emeryville City Manager Patrick O’Keefe said that it would be improper for him to discuss grievances or work performance issues concerning any individual city employee. 

But O’Keefe said that he was “proud of the diversity” in Emeryville’s workforce, citing statistics which said that while African-Americans comprise only 19.5 percent of Emeryville’s population, the city government’s workforce is 34 percent African-American, and supervisory staff is 27 percent African-American. 

O’Keefe’s report said that Emeryville has invested heavily in training for employees, including $135,000 committed to such programs as tuition reimbursement for employees pursuing AA, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees. 

Saying that “we have a strong commitment to training and a strong commitment to helping people compete for advancement,” O’Keefe said that two of the four city employees who have already taken advantage of the reimbursement program are African-American. 

O’Keefe also said that discontent among Emeryville city employees was limited to a small number of persons. He said that of 74 internal employment grievances filed over the past 12 years, 51 percent were filed by three individuals, and that 68 percent of the 28 race-related internal employment grievances were filed by one person. O’Keefe also said that of the five discrimination claims filed by city employees with either state or federal agencies, three of them race-related, none were upheld. 

But Leslie Pollard told Councilmembers following O’Keefe’s presentation that the individual city employee who filed the bulk of the race-related internal grievances had done so in behalf of other employees. 

And another Concerned Citizens For Change representative, Valerie Savage, said that Pollard’s favorable discrimination settlement would indicate that there were other discrimination problems in city employment that should be addressed by the Council. 

“If the FDA finds a piece of contaminated meat in a store, they take all of the meat off the shelf until they find out the cause,” Savage said. “This is a contaminated issue. The city needs to look into it until it is solved.” 

And Service Employees International Union Emeryville Field Director Larry Hendel said that O’Keefe’s report failed to look into the problem of discrimination in employee discipline in Emeryville. 

“From where I sit, that’s where the pain is really felt,” Hendel said. “I urge you to add that to your criteria for study.” 

O’Keefe recommended the outside consultant and morale study after saying that “while I’m proud of the morale among city employees, I’m not going to rest on that.” 

Councilmember Ken Bukowski, who put the discrimination issue on the Council agenda, called the hiring of an outside consultant “excellent.” 

Referring to the Pollard settlement, Bukowski said, “we have spent a lot of money on this, and a lot of us don’t understand why we have spent a lot of money.” 

Councilmember Ruth Atkin said that while she was “encouraged by the results” of the city manager’s report, “self-examination of racial problems is important. I don’t think we should stop here.” 

And Mayor Nora Davis said that while “these figures tell a very, very good story,” she said she “fully supports an independent outside analysis” of Emeryville city employment. 

But even while supporting the hiring of an outside consultant to probe discrimination in Emeryville, City Councilmembers showed how divisive the issue can be. 

When Councilmember Dick Kassis said that he was “somewhat embarassed that while Emeryville has such a large minority population, we have five white faces up here; we need to figure out how to outreach and get more people to come out and serve in elected office,” Bukowski snapped back, “I have a problem with the suggestion that when we have an all-white Council, Black Folks aren’t represented. I try to represent all people on council.” 

No date was set for the hiring of the outside consultant.