Clarke: Lack of Diversity in Some City Departments Is “Problematic”

The Council President says minorities make up only 22 percent of the executive staffers in departments overseen by Philly’s Chief Administrative Officer.

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L to R: Darrell Clarke and Jim Kenney. | Photos by City Council’s Flickr and Jeff Fusco

Mayor Jim Kenney was elected last year with a very broad, diverse coalition. Once in office, he promised to make his staff just as diverse.

At a budget hearing Wednesday, City Council members expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of diversity in the top staff of departments overseen by Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Rhynhart. They include the Office of Innovation and Technology, the Fleet Management Office, and the public property, procurement and records departments, among others.

City Council President Darrell Clarke said at the hearing that only 22 percent of the executive staff in those departments are people of color. (This figure does not include the records department, for which data was not immediately unavailable.)

“That’s clearly problematic,” said Clarke.

Council members also said no minorities hold the top jobs at the Department of Public Property. In the Office of Fleet Management, there isn’t a single woman executive, lawmakers said.

“Based on research from boards across the country, when you have diverse boards, you actually get different and oftentimes better decisions,” said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. “And so that’s why it matters to us that we have a city, particularly those in leadership, in executive positions, that look like the city of Philadelphia.”

Rhynhart acknowledged that work needs to be done to increase diversity. “Our city’s workforce should represent the diversity of the city. I think we have improvements that need to be made,” she said. “I think we as an administration are taking steps towards that.”

Nolan Atkinson, the city’s first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, said the city is working to develop new methods to recruit and train prospective employees.

“I always look at diversity and inclusion as a macro kind of responsibility, as opposed to a responsibility that applies to individual positions,” Atkinson said. “My goal is to get the metrics from all the departments to begin to figure out what departments we really need to work with to improve the racial and gender as well as ethic metrics, and begin doing that.”

City officials also said that they are conducting a survey of employees about diversity-related issues. “We can better understand what it looks and feels like for a diverse employee in this city, and what kinds of environmental things may impact our ability to attract and retain diverse employees,” said Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Jackie Linton.

But Council members were skeptical of the administration’s efforts. Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez said the city recently listed a open position for a civil service job that required 40 hours of training from the government.

“What you’re saying and what you’re doing are in conflict with each other,” she said. “Folks call me and say, ‘Why can’t I get this job? I don’t have 40 hours of pre-approved training from the department.'”

Clarke also noted that, after Joan Decker recently retired from her position as records commissioner, the Kenney administration replaced her with Jim Leonard, who is white. “You had an opportunity to increase your diversity numbers … you did not do that,” said Clarke.

This issue is not unique to departments that report to the Chief Administrative Officer. According to an analysis completed by Citified in February, 66 percent of Kenney’s high-level appointments are white, 22 percent are black, 8 percent are Latino, 3 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are Native American. Philadelphia’s population is 36 percent white, 41 black, 14 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian and less than 1 percent Native American.

At the time that story was published, a spokeswoman for Kenney said the mayor was not satisfied with the mix. “The city needs to do more to attract people of color to city employment and then create a pipeline that allows them to advance through the workforce,” she said. “We have some great stories — like our streets commissioner who started out walking behind a trash truck — but we need more of them.”

Follow @gracemaiorano on Twitter.

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