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Mayor acknowledges hiring disparities, takes steps

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Expressing disappointment that the latest class of Lansing firefighters was apparently all white men, Mayor Andy Schor issued new guidelines today for improving diversity in hiring.

“While these were all very qualified individuals, the diversity of the class was not what I had hoped for,” Schor said in a prepared statement.

A story in City Pulse last month reported that a change of hiring policy to seek more paramedics contributed to the drop-off in minority representation.

The makeup of the latest class was a departure from that of the last three years of Schor’s predecessor, Virg Bernero, when more than a third of new hires were minority candidates. Schor took office Jan. 1, 2017.

Schor issued a policy statement that points out the class of 2018 was all paramedics. It says the city will seek to create an “appropriate mix of paramedics and EMTs to ensure response and diversity.”

The statement said that “up to” 40 retirements and promotions has left a shortage of paramedics. The city sought to address the problem by hiring firefighters that were already qualified as paramedics, which requires 2,400 hours of training. The Bernero administration allowed firefighters to qualify while on the job.

Schor’s policy statement reflects a return to some extent to Bernero’s policy.

“We needed to hire paramedics to assure we can adequately respond to calls,” Schor’s statement said, but trying to meet the need led to less diversity. “These new hires will all do a great job, but we still need to hire more firefighters. Hiring a mix of paramedics and EMT’s in the future will allow us to hire a much larger pool of candidates” and hence a “diverse workforce.”

Schor pointed out that Lansing is the only city in the region that does not require the hiring of paramedics.

“We need to have enough paramedics, but we can also mix in EMT’s who are on the path to becoming paramedics,” he said.

“This will ensure that we have appropriate staffing for the response that is expected by Lansing residents, while providing more diversity.”

Schor also said the city will create a cadet youth program for firefighters similar to the Police Department’s explorer program, “in order to engage the youth of Lansing and show them what a great and honorable profession this is.”

Given the extensive training to become a paramedic, “we need to get young people training early,” he said, “then we can use preferential hiring of cadets from Lansing, similar to what the Lansing Police Department does.”

He said the city will continue the Lansing Public Safety Youth Leader-ship Academy for teens that offers five days of educational experiences focused on police and fire professions.

He said he hopes both the cadet program and hiring a mix of paramedics and EMTS will result in improving the number of minorities.

He also said the city government will strive to create a Fire Department that better matches Lansing’s racial makeup. “I am proud that our fire department currently closely matches the diverse makeup of the city,” said. But he also said the “minority candidate pool is not currently out there for Lansing and other cities.”

He said the city is 23 percent African American, whereas the Fire Department is 19.5 percent. For Latinos, the city is 12.5 percent and the department is 7.6 percent; for Asians, the numbers are 3.7 percent in the city and 1.2 percent in the department.

“While these were all very qualified individuals, the diversity of the class was not what I had hoped for. Hiring a mix of paramedics and EMTs will help ensure … a diverse workforce.”

— Lansing Mayor Andy Schor

“We should strive to have an employee mix that matches our community, especially in public safety,” the statement says.

The statement does not address changes at the top with the departure of an African American chief, Randy Talifarro, whose permanent replacement, Michael Mackey, of Palm Beach County, Florida, is white, as have been the two interim chiefs.

Former Assistant Chief Bruce Odom told City Pulse that any racial problems are “probably more of a cultural issue” stemming from a “good ol’ boys type of club” atmosphere.

Schor’s statement declared, “We do not and will not stand for discrimination or racial insensitivity in any department.” He cited a variety of required “racial sensitivity” programs for public safety employees.

He also pointed out his executive order last year establishing the Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, which is charged with providing recommendations to address “disparities or the lack of participation of people of color in employment and other aspects of city government.”

He promised that the Human Resources Department will address any concerns raised internally and that citizens can raise concerns with the “independent” Fire Board of Commissioners, whose members the mayor appoints with the approval of the City Council. He also said the city has an “independent investigator that works with the city as needed.”

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