Fulton County diversity

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.

Commenting is open below.

How to fix Fulton, balance work force

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.

Reaching a broader pool of applicants

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.

29 comments Add your comment

Bernie

June 7th, 2013
6:18 pm

I would be the First among any of you to say and support A Wholesale Change of Leadership in Fulton County and Atlanta City Government.

Its Time and Past DUE!

There needs to be a complete change of the Career and Professional Politicians who have infected the very Core of our Local Governments.

From every Mayor, County Commissioner, to every last one of the Atlanta City Council Members. ALL have FAILED MISERABLY the Citizenry in being good stewards of Government management. We need to open the windows of these City and County Government Offices and Let some fresh AIR in.

New Faces of Leadership, who will not become victims of Political
Corruption, Nepotism, Favoritism, Racism of any KIND, Advocates of the Business and Corporate entities only. Last but not least career politicians who have their own Personal Political aspirations of Higher office.

We need to establish a stricter Code of REAL and TANGIBLE ETHICS to help govern those whom we choose.

No more back door payouts and sweetheart deals to Friends, Family, Business Associates, Church Members, Sororities, Fraternities, Social organizations, Campaign Donors and the like.

No City or County Contracts for (10) TEN Years of any Political Office Holder, staff and campaign staff members and or consultants.

Term Limits for City Council and Commission members.

Restrictions on MONETARY issues as it relates to Budgetary, Spending and Project Approvals.

These are just a few of the necessary changes required in order to bring this CHAOS of disorganized and inept Leadership into a manageable and workable relationship for the Citizens and residents of Fulton County and The City of Atlanta, respectively. The Next Election Cycle is coming fast upon US!

Let us not sit back and become VICTIMS again of these (DTR’s) Day Time Robbers, ever again!

We all have PAID enough to them!

Its Time for US to let them ALL move on to their Next Victim.

Starik

June 7th, 2013
4:05 pm

It might be instructive to look at the racial statistics for DeKalb and Clayton as well as those for Fulton, and the evolving demographic makeup of all the core counties. Fulton was the first of the counties to become majority black, decades ago. At that time DeKalb and Clayton had large white majorities, and all three had county workers reflecting the balance of their populations. Because of civil service rules, and the threat of racial discrimination suits and all the other difficulties in managing in local government, Clayton and DeKalb have – or until recently had – workforces with “too many” whites. Clayton and Dekalb have become areas with large black majorities, and Fulton has become, by a slender margin, majority white again, and has “too many” blacks.

Keep an eye on Cobb and Gwinnett for demographic changes. People move around and the political landscape changes.

If Milton County comes, it will be because it will be in the interest of black political control to let it happen. Fulton County makes no sense as a governing entity, it’s three disparate parts, south, north and middle, all differentd an artificially together, making no sense at all. Remember Yugoslavia?

Prof

June 7th, 2013
3:38 pm

@ Bob J. If you live in Arizona, how can you be sure you’re accurate about what’s going on in Atlanta NOW? Your picture here is dated by at least 15 years.

Unions are illegal in Georgia according to its constitution, and city/state government workers have had their pay frozen since at least 2008. Fulton County and Atlanta have had worse tax revenue drops than most of its neighboring counties, and that’s a large reason why their pay for government workers is lower. Their pay may not be minimum wage, but it seems significant when it’s tens of $1000s less. As to Fulton’s “generous health and retirement benefits,” all state workers get those, no matter what county they’re in.

Do you know the present racial demographics for Atlanta and its suburbs? That for the last 10 years or so, there has been a “White Flight” from the suburbs back into the city and a “reverse flight” of blacks into the suburbs? The 2010 Federal Census demonstrated this. If you’re referring to the mayoral campaign of the white Mary Norwood in 2009 (”paranoid of having a white woman as mayor”), this was noteworthy precisely because of this demographic shift of whites back in-town who thus could vote for her. (She lost.)

It’s still a city to love, just a different one from what you knew….more mixed, diverse, looser around the edges.

Bernie

June 7th, 2013
3:28 pm

Bob J @ 2:55 pm – Please stay in Arizona! You have no real applicable knowledge as to what is going on in Atlanta then and Now!

Bob J

June 7th, 2013
2:55 pm

I can’t imagine that all of the jobs in Fulton County pay minimum wage. Get real. I’m not familiar either if they use Civil Service or even have unions. I live in Arizona now, but grew up when the pendulum swung the other way. I do find it disturbing though, that now that the Atlanta area has more than exceeded in meeting goals for equal opportunities for blacks, that every time I read an article about Atlanta, it’s about racism toward Caucasians It was national news when you were paranoid of having a white woman as mayor. Reverse discrimination is alive and well in metro Atlanta which is why most rural communities in Georgia have large white populations (”White Flight”). Sad state of affairs in a city I once loved.

Fulton Employee

June 7th, 2013
2:05 pm

You can’t hire white employees if they aren’t applying for these low paying jobs. It’s very plain and simple. I guess AJC wants to make race an issue to get people all riled up. Milton County is not never going to exist without statewide approval and the GOP controlled state legislator knows that. Which is why they’re passing laws to control the county.

Ex-Fulton

June 7th, 2013
1:58 pm

As a former white employee of Fulton County, much of what Mr. Parks articulates is true — particularly in the clerk’s office of the various county court systems. While not quite nepotism, it seemed to me that a large percentage of the new employees all attended the same church. It’s system for advertising is ineffective and the system for applying for jobs is cumbersome as well — which may hinder people (white or black) from knowing about the jobs unless they have an internal connection to the organization.

It is true that Fulton County does not pay as well as other metro counties for administrative jobs, etc. However, that needs to be balanced with its very generous health and retirement benefits.

carolyn gattegno

June 7th, 2013
1:54 pm

I am white and part Cherokee indian. does that mean that I have to be part of a quota? I think not so why is it such a problem for black and white to coexist?
whomever gets there first and qualifies should be hired. Maybe that is not always the case but I would bet that mostly it is. Stop whining and if you don’t get ONE job look for another. I think that’s the way it always was before this black/white thing.

the dude

June 7th, 2013
1:27 pm

It didn’t get majority black on accident and it won’t change by accident. For what it’s worth, John Eaves totally sided stepped the issue and offered no real commentary on anything.