Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Workforce diversity is an issue in Fulton County, where the population is 48 percent white and 45 percent black, but where 83 percent of the county government’s 5,500 employees are black. The Fulton County chairman addresses the imbalance, and a lawyer with experience in employment cases outlines what county — and state legislators — can do to remedy it.
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By A. Lee Parks
Fulton is our state’s keystone county. It has been a pivotal player in achieving many of the milestones that put metro Atlanta on the map — the Olympics, the stadium that made the Braves and Falcons a reality, MARTA, and the essential work done at Grady Memorial Hospital. So why have so many of its citizens abandoned it to start new cities that hold the promise of delivering more efficient governance? And why does Fulton face extinction at the hands of its own state legislative delegation?
The answer is complicated, but race, as is often the case in the South, is front and center in the conversation. Despite the exodus of its citizens through the cityhood movement, the county work force has not shrunk proportionally. It is also disturbing that a county that is majority white maintains a work force that is 83 percent black.
In response, the county points to a largely black applicant pool. It throws up its hands and says it can only hire those who apply. But when you peel back that onion, you find an affirmative action program that remains in force long after it makes no sense other than as a political sop to Southside voters. There is no meaningful anti-nepotism policy to prevent black managers from hiring and promoting family members, exacerbating the racial imbalance. A river of litigation is driven by claims of reverse discrimination and unlawful retaliation against those who complain about the race-based decision making.
To save itself, the county must develop a smaller, more diverse work force with skills tailored to its more limited role by doing the following: End affirmative action in hiring, promotions and public contracting; pass a rigorous anti-nepotism policy; mandate arbitration of all claims related to discrimination and get out of the litigation business; and solicit the advice of resident corporations regarding how they maintain productive, globally diverse work forces.
It will not be enough to simply hire more white workers; the county must retain them. Workers stay because they are valued, fairly compensated, and have a fair opportunity for promotion in a work place that is reasonably close to home. Fulton needs to weed out incompetents to create opportunities for advancement, and decentralize its workforce by adding work venues that are more accessible to its constituents and closer to the North Fulton homes of the white workers it needs to attract.
What won’t work is the cannibalistic approach taken by the Fulton County delegation in the last state legislative session. The thinly veiled attempt to re-animate the ghost of Milton County so whites and blacks can have their “own” counties was racist and short sighted. Some of those bills won’t pass legal muster, like the gerrymandered alteration of commission district lines to get more whites elected. But others will survive and deprive the county of the tools it needs to remake itself.
The state delegation needs to work cooperatively with Fulton’s leaders. In turn, the county should acknowledge past sins and make peace with its state delegation. A new day can be had only if our leaders have the vision to see it.
A. Lee Parks, a senior partner at Parks, Chesin & Walbert, is a lawyer specializing in employment, constitutional and voting rights law.
By John Eaves
In 1880, Fulton County’s first commissioners took office — a group of five white males — and began the business of establishing laws for this great county. Ninety-five years later, in 1975, J.O. Wyatt and Henry D. Dodson became the first African-American men to serve on the Board of Commissioners. Fourteen years later, Nancy A. Boxill became the first woman to serve on the board.
Our expectations about diversity have changed since the early days, and even since these color and gender barriers were broken. Across the nation, we see changes in the diversity of our communities, among our elected officials and in our workforce.
In my own career, I have been fortunate to work with people around the globe. As a regional administrator with the Peace Corps and as a liaison to South Africa on behalf of Morehouse College, I have collaborated with people from many nations and recognized the synergy our different ideas created.
That same diversity and synergy are mirrored in Fulton County.
Like any employer, Fulton must seek the best candidate with every hiring decision. According to a Forbes Insights’ 2011 study, 85 percent of top global companies value diversity as a driver for innovation, creativity and strategy. Fulton is no different. The need for innovation has never been greater, as dollars become more limited and challenges grow more complex.
I am fully committed to reaching a broader pool of potential applicant to bring together individuals of broad backgrounds to work collaboratively to deliver excellent services at an excellent value to taxpayers.
Fulton has a strong history of diversity and inclusion. It was among the first in the nation to establish a Disability Affairs Office to ensure access for employees with disabilities. Our internationally recognized Gender Equality Program ensures opportunities for men, women, boys and girls. The county has also been supportive of gay and lesbian employees and residents; it began offering benefits to same-sex partners in 2003.
Public administration professionals have long recognized the need for governments to attract talented professionals who might earn more in the private sector. By casting our net broadly and always hiring the best candidates, diversity becomes a natural byproduct. Recently, Fulton began implementing plans to ensure thoughtful outreach efforts that will reach a diverse group of professionals in any given field.
I am especially interested in ensuring that our recruitment includes recent graduates and young professionals with fresh ideas and new solutions. Analysis by the Partnership for Public Service showed that in 2011, less than 6 percent of college graduates considered government careers.
We have an opportunity to reach out to our many colleges, technical schools and graduate programs in and around Fulton County to usher in a group of future leaders with an eye on innovation.
John Eaves is chairman of the Fulton County Commission.