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Biting the Hand That Needs

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With her 1996 report, Lamar's intention was simply to put on the record, and thus make public, what she -- and her bosses -- had known for years. But in a deposition for her lawsuit, Lamar notes that Witschen said the original report would be damaging as a public document. And three weeks before Lamar submitted her final draft, Panoch sent her an e-mail, in which he wrote, "We need to regroup... management would like a fresh approach."

"There's probably not enough," Panoch admits today, referring to women and minorities in city management positions. "We've been working on it for years. But we're getting more and more diverse."

Witschen agrees that the city could be more diverse but notes that it must hire the most qualified people for jobs, regardless of race or gender.

"I want to see more opportunity, more training," he says. "I want to see a more available job pool so that, when promotions come up and the opportunities come up... underrepresented classes are there in sufficient numbers with sufficient training so we can make the promotions or hiring decisions."

Such talk is cheap, Lamar believes, because, as her report claims, there are plenty of minority midlevel managers who qualify for senior-level jobs. Because those jobs are not available in Fort Lauderdale, however, many minorities are leaving the city for better opportunities elsewhere. To some degree the numbers support her claim. In 1996 the city was supposed to have as midlevel managers four African-Americans, two Hispanics, and thirteen women. But it had only three African-Americans, one Hispanic, and six women. Not only was the city short of its goals, but in one case, that of women, it was four short of the number it employed in 1991.

In her report, Lamar concludes that the city was suffering from "affirmative action cycle," a five-year period in which a female and/or minority is hired and eventually leaves because, in Lamar's words, "the internal organizational culture does not match our stated goals, and recruits become disillusioned about being able to obtain career expectations and decide to leave the organization." The phenomenon is common, Lamar says, and typically overlooked when annual reports don't offer statistical comparisons.

Promotions, of course, are available at more than just middle and senior levels, and Lamar claims that, at all levels, minorities complain about the lack of opportunity in Fort Lauderdale.

Keith Hudson, a white parks and recreation employee, says he was offered the chance to go from Level I for maintenance workers to Level II back in 1981, soon after he was hired. Because Hudson was planning to move to Colorado at the time, he suggested the promotion go instead to Willie McIntyre, the black employee who'd trained him and been with the city for five years. Hudson says that, because the promotion was meant only for him, the supervisor ripped up the paper on which it was written in front of both men.

"I got real pissed at that," Hudson recalls. "But Willie just said, 'No man, that's just the way [the supervisor] is,' and we went about our jobs. To this day they are like that. I'm probably the only white guy who will say this because we're all afraid of losing our jobs. That's one of the biggest fears people have in this city today -- speaking out will get you fired, especially if it's against management. But I'm tired of being messed with. They treat me just as bad as they treat some of the black guys."

Hudson assumes that he was offered the promotion because, at the time, his then-mother-in-law worked for the city. "They figured I was somebody," he says. "Willie was nobody to them." Hudson says McIntyre eventually quit because of the unfair treatment.

Lamar's 1996 report shows that, in some cases, minorities weren't able even to get a foot in the door. The racial makeup of the beach patrol is the most telling. In 1996 at least two African-Americans, two Hispanics, and ten women should have been either patrol members or beach lifeguards. The numbers, instead, were zero, one, and one, respectively. On the other hand, the numbers for minority and female detention officers were higher than the city's goals. Because both jobs are listed under the "non-sworn protective services" category, the overall tally suggested the city was meeting its goals. But Lamar's detailed look at the years 1991 to 1996 concluded that, on the beach at least, that wasn't the case.

"The city says blacks are hired for the jail [detention officer jobs] because they apply," Lamar says. "Well, blacks apply for detention officers because they know they can get those jobs. If you have a 75-year history of not hiring blacks [as lifeguards] on the beach, it doesn't take long for them to get it. You tend not to apply because you know you won't get it.

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Lucy Chabot

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