The city’s Human Relations Commission is considering six recommendations for dealing with alleged racial discrimination in the water management department.
“We hope (these) will alleviate some concerns of employees that have come forward,” said Commissioner Susan Austin, who headed an ad hoc committee that looked into the allegations and city data over the past six months.
Their recommendations include streamlining the city’s employee grievance process, career-advancement training and better lines of communication between employees and supervisors.
Members of the ad hoc committee presented their recommendations last week to the full commission, which scheduled a special meeting June 16 to review them and settle on a final version for the City Council.
“We are dealing with people’s lives,” Commission Chairman Phil Seib said. “They are concerned and want to see some kind of action if it’s appropriate.
“If we agree,” he said, “let’s move forward.”
Mayor Bill Bell asked the Human Relations Commission, a 15-member volunteer body of city residents, to investigate current and former water department employees’ claims of discriminatory discipline, promotions and firings, and retaliation against black employees who raised issues about bias.
A statistical analysis by the city's human resources department, presented to the commission in December, found a significant disparity in the number of disciplinary actions taken against minority and white employees from 2011 to 2014.
“We have heard a lot of information brought to us by current and former employees of water department,” Austin said.
Besides the statistical analysis, the committee asked for and received demotion and termination figures, complaints from employee satisfaction surveys and other information from the city’s personnel office, she said.
That data showed complaints about and numbers that showed a lack of black employees in supervisory positions, and a disparity in terminations: from 2008 through 2014, Commissioner Sejal Zota said, 34 black water department employees were terminated, 13 white.
The Human Relations Commission does not have authority to see confidential personnel records, or to investigate or make recommendations regarding individuals’ cases. It can report findings and make policy recommendations to the City Council, and recommend that investigation continues.
“We did some of our research best practices around some things we thought would be helpful,” she said.
An ad hoc committee of the city Human Relations Commission has drafted six recommendations for addressing racial discrimination complaints against the city’s water management department:
▪ Internal department “pipelines” to prepare employees for promotion to supervisory roles;
▪ A “360-degree feedback system” for employees to receive confidential, anonymous information on their work performance from their peers and managers;
▪ Racial equity training for management-level city employees;
▪ An employee forum of supervisory and other employees elected by their peers to encourage communication throughout the department, similar to one instituted in Chapel Hill;
▪ Simplifying the current grievance policies, which involve several different procedures and, in the committee’s opinion, “are difficult for employees to navigate”;
▪ A report from the city’s human resources office on the status of measures it adopted as a result of the 2014 statistical analysis.
The full commission plans a special meeting June 16 to review the recommendations, consider revisions and settle on a final version to present to the City Council in July.