NAACP presses for diversity in Arundel staffing

Only one black added to leadership since Owens' election victory

August 02, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Concerned about a paucity of minorities in the highest-paying and most influential jobs in Anne Arundel County government, the head of the NAACP's local branch is calling on County Executive Janet S. Owens to do more to improve work force diversity.

"We had such high expectations," chapter President Gerald Stansbury said last week. "But right now it feels like we're stuck in a stall."

After Owens' November election victory, leaders of the black community took credit for delivering the turnout that carried her into office. She expressed gratitude, promising to give black residents a strong voice in her administration. Owens became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a gesture of solidarity.

Since then, Owens has appointed only one African-American to a Cabinet-level post, and the good feelings have been replaced by restlessness.

"When I looked at the statistics, I was startled to see that the stature of African-Americans in county government simply doesn't reflect the makeup of this county," Stansbury said. "I'm disappointed that Mrs. Owens hasn't done more to remedy that."

Stansbury referred to 1997 figures -- the most recent available -- compiled by the county for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While African-Americans make up about 15 percent of the county's population, they hold 39 of the 594 county jobs -- or about 7 percent -- that pay more than $43,000. The statistics also reveal a clear trend: the higher the pay, the thinner the ranks of minorities and women.

In an interview, Owens expressed frustration with the slow progress in correcting the hiring imbalance. She pleaded for patience, stressing that she inherited the problem and can't fix it overnight.

"Historically, the county has not done a good job of developing its minority employees and promoting them from within," she said. "But everyone knows this matters to me. I am committed to this."

Randall J. Schultz, whom Owens hired in February to head the personnel office, said minority recruitment has been his priority.

"It's a commitment the county executive made to the county, and it's a commitment I made to her when I was hired," Schultz said.

Schultz has not compiled numbers that show whether minority hiring in county government has improved in the eight months since Owens took office.

The hiring decisions that most concern Stansbury and other minority leaders are those made directly by Owens. Though she has made several Cabinet-level appointments, she must fill more than a dozen key positions, including director of planning, head of economic development, education liaison, the central services director and public safety director. The only minority member Owens has appointed to the Cabinet is Carl O. Snowden, her special assistant.

"I'd like to see her make more appointments than just the one," said George Phelps, an African-American businessman and lifelong county resident. "This is a voting population that really helped to elect her. Percentage-wise, I think they should have more than one appointment."

Owens said she intends to correct that once she finds someone qualified and willing to work a time-consuming county job for a salary that isn't competitive with the private sector.

"I found a woman who I thought was highly qualified for one of the open positions, but she would have had to take a $40,000-a-year pay cut," the county executive said. "Let me tell you, this has been so much more difficult than I thought."

Snowden, once a vocal critic of the county's hiring practices, said he understands the frustrations felt by Stansbury and others, but believes Owens will make improvements.

"I think she fully intends to keep her promise," Snowden said. "And every one of those unfilled positions is an opportunity for her to do that."

Pub Date: 8/02/99

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