Human Rights Commission asks Ecker to remove aide from interview process

February 25, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

An aide to County Executive Charles I. Ecker asked "insensitive and inappropriate questions" as part of an interview recently and should not be allowed to conduct any more of them, the Human Rights Commission says.

The commission has sent Mr. Ecker two letters asking that administrative assistant Gail Bates be removed from the process of screening and selecting nominees for county boards and commissions.

Both letters score Ms. Bates for her "apparent incorrect and insensitive interview techniques," but neither letter says what the offending techniques are. Commission Chairwoman Jan Nyquist, who wrote both letters, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ms. Bates said she feels "blindsided" by the letters because she was not aware she had done anything wrong. She said she thought she had established enough rapport during a recent interview with a human rights applicant to share a brief, informal chat afterward.

"We were just shooting the bull -- talking about Illinois where she and I lived and about her work as a physicist," Ms. Bates said. "I was very impressed with her. I mentioned that I know some other young physicists -- she was only 26 -- and I asked her, I don't know why, I was just making conversation, if she were married. It had zip to do with the interview. It was off the cuff."

That, apparently, was not the impression the applicant received, Human Rights Commissioner David Marker said. Mr. Marker, chairman of the commission's racial, religious and ethnic incident committee, said the woman thought Ms. Bates might be asking the marriage question as a way of eliciting the woman's views on homosexuality.

The commission contends that Ms. Bates is biased against homosexuals and seeks to put people with similar biases on the rights commission.

"That just isn't the case," Ms. Bates said. "I don't care [about a person's sexual preference]. It doesn't matter to me."

Ms. Bates said she was troubled by the allegations that she asks improper questions and that she "feels like a fool for not realizing [that the applicant] was uncomfortable" during their short conversation.

Mr. Marker said the woman was so uncomfortable that she asked that her identify not be publicized.

County Executive Ecker said he does not intend to replace Ms. Bates. "Screening is not the proper word" to describe Ms. Bates' role, he said. It is he, not Ms. Bates, who selects and nominates people to serve on board and commissions, he said.

Ms. Bates' role is to receive the resumes, sort them according to the position being sought, and sit in on interviews with a liaison from the board or commission seeking applicants, Mr. Ecker said.

He said he has directed the county personnel office to work with every county employee who interviews people. "There are some questions you should ask and some you should not ask," he said.

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