Hamilton community leader calls for changes to minority staffing in the city

A Hamilton community leader is calling for change in the racial and gender makeup of the city’s employees, which he says does not represent the population during a time when protests have happened across the country over outrage at the treatment of black residents nationally.

Of the 660 full- and part-time people Hamilton employs, 3.5 percent are African American, 0.9 percent are Hispanic, 0.6 percent are Asian and 95 percent are white.

Also, 18 percent of the city’s workforce are women, according to data the Journal-News requested. Bob Harris, president of the South East Civic Association, a citizens group for the city’s Second Ward and Jefferson neighborhoods, sought similar information.

The city’s minority employment numbers are lower than the percentages of minorities living in the city and county.

“For a city that is talking about diversity, to me, that’s unacceptable,” Harris said. “I just think the city can do a whole lot better than that.

“If we want to be a city that attracts all people, then we’re going to have to change. I think now is the time to change,” given that the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill indoor sports complex and convention center is under construction, and is expected to bring thousands of visitors per weekend to the city, he said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates as of July 1, 2019, Hamilton’s and Butler County’s population is:

• Black: 9.4 percent in the city; 8.9 percent in the county

• Hispanic or Latino: 5.9 percent city; 4.9 percent county

• Asian: 0.8 percent city; 3.7 percent county

• Women: 52.1 percent city; 50.9 percent county

With racial protests occurring in the city, region and across the country, Harris last week sent an email to Hamilton City Council asking more than two dozen questions about racial diversity of city employees and other issues.

But it wasn’t the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis that prompted Harris to write council, he said. Instead, it was the coronavirus pandemic that has been keeping him and others from attending recent council meetings.

Harris was disappointed to see the latest city employment statistics.

“I still think we need to deal with the diversity issue,” Harris said. “I never really felt they were addressing any of the issues.”

He did volunteer one exception.

“I don’t have a problem with our police department,” he said. “I really think that (Police Chief Craig) Bucheit is hiring for diversity. I really do.”

In a statement, Bucheit said he and the department have focused on increasing their minority hiring, especially since 2015, when a new motto was adopted: “Recruit for Diversity. Hire for Character. Train for Excellence.”

Since that time, 55 officers have been hired, and 11 percent were African American, 2 percent were Hispanic and 20 percent were female, he said. That improved on the department’s previous workforce levels of 4 percent African American, 1 percent Hispanic and 3 percent female.

Harris said one challenge that disappoints him with minority hiring in the fire department is the fact just about everyone has to be a paramedic, which raises the difficulty of meeting standards for entry-level firefighters.

Jeanne Pope, Hamilton’s civil service & personnel director, said in a statement that “continuous improvements are needed” to hire more minorities.

“At the city of Hamilton, we endeavor to create new avenues to reach out to the communities that at this time are underrepresented,” Pope said. “Continuous improvements are needed and necessary to our recruitment process and the areas of outreach. This will be an ongoing mission.”

She said her department began discussions earlier this year with community leaders and some city department directors “in observation of the lack of diversity in our workforce.”

Her department “expected to have more momentum at this stage of our calendar, unfortunately due to COVID-19 our attention was diverted,” Pope stated. “We welcome ideas and feedback and look forward to working with the community in Hamilton and the surrounding areas to help us achieve our goals.

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