Black Leaders Say Neall Has Ignored Minority Issues

May 01, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

A coalition of black leaders charged yesterday that County ExecutiveRobert R. Neall has not responded to minority concerns during his first 100 days in office and challenged him to improve on the record ofhis predecessors.

The Black Political Forum issued a 13-page report criticizing Neall for making no minority cabinet-level appointments and renewed long-standing complaints about police brutality, the Housing Authority, minority business development and the Human Relations Commission.

The report said Neall inherited many problems of racial inequity from his predecessors, O. James Lighthizer and Robert Pascal, but concluded "there is not a single prominent member of our community that is satisfied that enough has been done in the last 100 days to indicate a break with the past."

The report took special notice of the county's failure to meet its affirmative action goals, saying that itshiring record follows the example at the top. Only the emergency management director and the human relations officer -- Pascal and Lighthizer holdovers -- are black.

"We've been fighting these same battles on the same issues for 20 years," said Mary Sellman Jackson, the county Republican Central Committee's first and only black member.

Forum chairman Matthew Thomas, a Republican political activist, said the report is intended to serve as a guide for Neall.

But the report said the county has erected a system of "Annpartheid," likening its affirmative action record and all-white Housing Authority board to the South African system of racial separation.

The 482 minority employees represented 14.7 percent of thecounty's work force when Lighthizer's three-year affirmative action plan expired in November, roughly matching the percentage of the county population.

But most of those workers were concentrated at the bottom in terms of skills, and only seven were middle managers or administrators.

Thomas said theforum did not approach Neall with its concernsbecause the report is intended as a challenge to the entire community.

"This is in no way intended to be a confrontational issue," he said during a news conference at Mount Olive AME Church in Annapolis. "I cannot emphasize enough the need to meet with us and use our expertise in addressing these problems."

But forum member Kenneth Webster, a former state delegate from Baltimore City, said there is no point in meeting with Neall.

"Going to Bobby Neall after 100 days when he's made no black appointments is like going to the KKK to draft a civil rights bill," said Webster, a state housing official and Annapolis chapter presidentof Blacks in Government.

Neall said yesterday that he would consider specific recommendations in the report. But he objected to the apartheid comparison and the language of some forum members.

"That'sthe most unorthodox invitation I've ever received," he said. "I'm not so sure after these comments whether a meeting would be useful, butI'm making a concerted effort in this area."

Some forum members differed on whether Neall has shown signs that he will respond to their concerns.

"In defense of the county executive, he did indicate he wanted to see his budget through before addressing other problems,"said the Rev. Rickey Spain, a member of the United Black Clergy, which met with Neall in February. "Butonce the transition reports are inand the budget is in, there should be immediate change."

Forum member Dallas Evans, who took no part in drafting the report, defended Neall's sincerity on minority issues and said he should be given sometime to respond. He noted that he served on Neall's executive transition panel, in addition to other blacks who lead 3 of 17 subcommittees.

"We have too many problems that face us as a community to continue to divide along racial lines," said Evans, whom Neall appointed as voluntary head of the Planning Advisory Board.

Neall renewed hiscommitment to improving business opportunities for minorities and his campaign promise that he will hire minorities for his cabinet.

But he declined comment on the forum's specific recommendations, whichinclude:

* Elevating the minority business enterprise coordinatorto a cabinet-level position;

* Expanding the Human Relations Commission mandate to review charges of discrimination in housing, law enforcement, the schools and county employment;

* Investigating the failure of affirmative action efforts and devising a more aggressive strategy (a new draft plan is due from the Office of Personnel May 1); and

* Neall advocating the appointment of blacks and women to the district and circuit courts.

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