Recent city job posting attracts Norwich NAACP scrutiny

Jacqueline Owens, right, president of the Norwich Branch of the NAACP, and Dennis Jenkins, second vice president, hold a press conference Friday at United Congregational Church in Norwich regarding the city's hiring policy.
Jacqueline Owens, right, president of the Norwich Branch of the NAACP, and Dennis Jenkins, second vice president, hold a press conference Friday at United Congregational Church in Norwich regarding the city's hiring policy. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Editor's note: This version corrects who was in attendance at Friday's press conference.

Norwich - The local branch of the NAACP on Friday criticized the city's hiring practices and said it plans to investigate how those practices might hurt the recruitment and hiring of minority candidates.

Diversity initiatives for hiring workers for most city departments "continue to lag behind and/or they do not exist," said Jacqueline Owens, president of the Norwich chapter of the NAACP, at a press conference. She noted that there are diversity initiatives in the police, fire and public utilities departments.

"We applaud the efforts of the Norwich police chief and Norwich fire chief," Owens said. The NAACP met with those departments to help them with diversity initiatives and would continue to do so, she said.

The press conference was held in response to the city's recent posting for an assistant human resources director. The position was only posted internally, although the city's workforce is around 92 percent white and the advertised job will require recruitment of minority employees. The low percentage of minorities makes recruiting only from within inherently exclusive, Owens said.

The assistant HR director position was placed in the budget last spring and approved by the City Council to be filled in April. The position has been vacant since 2009 and would pay about $62,000 per year.

Owens and other members of the NAACP met last week with City Manager Alan Bergren, Human Resources Director Brigid Marks and Norwich Public Utilities officials to discuss the city's recruitment of new employees.

From that meeting, Owens concluded that the city continues "to not address the barriers within their own personnel policies and procedures," she said at the press conference.

Bergren, who attended the press conference with Marks, said Friday that he is a member of the NAACP and that the city government "wants to work with (the NAACP) and all diversity groups throughout the city."

He listed several diversity initiatives that the city has taken, including an update of the city's Affirmative Action Plan, the hiring of bilingual employees and the promotion of several minorities within the city's workforce.

He said that the new affirmative action plan will be available in about two weeks.

Norwich is inconsistent in how it posts jobs, Owens said.

"It appears ... as if there is a lack of consistency by the city officials as to when, what positions, and who can determine when a position is only posted for merit promotion and when it can be posted as merit promotion and open application," Owens said at the press conference.

She said she also learned at last week's meeting that the city gives an unspecified preference to current city employees even when a position is posted both internally and externally.

The NAACP called for Norwich officials to "develop a strong initiative with implementation dates to diversify its workforce to reflect the demographics of the City of Norwich." The city is about 70 percent white, 10 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic, according to the Connecticut Economic Resource Center.

The organization also called for immediate reactivation of the city's diversity committee and the creation of an office of diversity/contract compliance in the 2013-14 budget.

Owens said that a breakdown given to the NAACP showed that the city only hired two minority employees in 2012, a fireman and a janitor. She thinks the presence of African-Americans on the fire department's selection board has helped give them a better track record than other city departments.

She said the NAACP was instrumental in helping an African-American get hired as the assistant principal of Teachers Memorial Middle School. The person did not receive a response to his application until Owens asked school administrators to consider it.

Owens said prior to the press conference that the NAACP is not concerned about hiring numbers, but rather, that minority candidates have an opportunity to be considered.

"We're just complaining that you have to at least give people an equal opportunity," she said.

Staff writer Claire Bessette contributed to this report.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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