The city is poised to continue an affirmative action arrangement that accomplishes nothing and leaves the city’s minorities without jobs, according to the only black man on the Schenectady City Council.
Councilman Joseph Allen used that argument this spring to persuade some of his colleagues to oppose extending the shared-services agreement with the county. But his hope of regaining control over the program by bringing it back to the city and using his influence to make that program successful is now fading.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton has persuaded some of Allen’s allies to switch sides and support the contract with the county. In particular, Councilman Gary McCarthy is now confident that the county-city deal, in which the city spends $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant money to fund a city-county affirmative action officer, will get good results in the long run.
“I still think it is the way to go, in terms of cost and the format. Tracey Chance and Rev. Adams started to do the right things. It just needed more time,” McCarthy said. The Rev. Emanuel Adams works in the county Affirmative Action Office.
When the current contract expires later this year, the council must either negotiate a new contract or pull out and fund its own affirmative action officer. No date has been set for a vote on the issue, but Stratton appears to have enough votes to offer the county a new contract.
He said that despite missteps in the first year of the arrangement, the city gets better service for less money than ever before.
“It makes the most sense to continue the prior arrangement that we’ve had,” Stratton said, “To reduce costs and to provide the most effective affirmative action services.”
But he acknowledged that the first year did not go smoothly. Chance, the first city-county affirmative action officer, left for a new job in March without even informing the city. She saw the county as her employer and informed her boss there.
She was gone a week before the City Council — preparing to ramp up recruitment efforts for the firefighter civil service test — learned they had no one to lead the recruitment drive. That was the last straw in a long line of miscommunications and frustrations, and Allen was quickly successful in turning some of the council against the city-county arrangement.
But McCarthy said the concept of a joint officer still makes sense.
“That’s the model we should be using — a central location at the county, one focal point,” he said. “Tracey Chance was building a file of resumes, a better outreach in recruiting people to take the [civil service] tests.”
He acknowledged that communication was sorely lacking. The council didn’t even know about her resume file or her outreach program until she returned to give one final report — and an apology — after she left the job.
Still, Stratton said, that report proved the program is worth continuing.
“I thought Tracey Chance did more in the 12 months than the previous affirmative action officers did that were housed in the city,” he said.
Allen can’t believe the city is preparing to commit itself to another year of what he considers a disastrous mistake.
“I don’t know who dreamt up this idea,” he said in disgust after hearing that the county had hired a new affirmative action director, Miriam Cajuste, to replace Chance.
Cajuste started Monday. She said she could not speak without permission from her supervisors. County Legislator Philip Fields, R-Schenectady, offered her educational background: two master’s degrees, in finance and business administration. Cajuste was previously a fiscal analyst for the state Assembly, Fields said.
He also spoke highly of the joint position, saying any other arrangement would cost more.
“Working together works. But when you work together, sometimes you have to work the kinks out,” he said.
Allen thinks the kinks show no signs of diminishing. While Chance started several programs to attract minorities, particularly blacks, to county jobs, Allen said she did nothing to help city blacks get jobs. He also criticized her priorities, saying she was focused on diversifying the county workforce instead of giving half her time to city recruitment efforts.
Making matters worse, the issue quickly became political and her bosses ordered her not to speak to the City Council. The mayor hammered out a compromise in which she could speak to him, but this didn’t satisfy Allen.
“Even more than the communication problems, I think there’s a philosophical problem. I don’t think they believe in affirmative action,” Allen said. “I don’t think the mayor believes in affirmative action. They’re doing it because they’re forced to.”
Allen said the city needs an officer under the council’s direct control so that he and others who are dedicated to affirmative action can make sure progress is being made.
Stratton said Allen should stop issuing “baseless and unproductive” statements and instead help make the city-county arrangement work.
“I think we’ve been very aggressive on our affirmative action efforts,” Stratton said. “We’re getting a larger, better staffed and more efficient department. It’s unfortunate that Councilman Allen chooses to take potshots rather than working with us.”
Stratton also said that most of the power struggle between the county and the city could be resolved with a tighter contract. He wants the new contract to have “some more direct language that establishes a reasonable and regular reporting schedule” as well as a requirement that the officer meet with the council in person when requested.
A majority of the council would support a contract with that language, Stratton said.
Allen’s one remaining ally, Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard, indicated that she might switch sides under that condition.
“If we were to vote it, there would have to be significant changes to the contract,” she said.
Until then, she added, “If he has a majority, I’m not one of those four people.”
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