Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday August 31 2014 Racial Issues and the City of St. Petersburg

Racial issues continue to bubble in the St. Petersburg City Government.

Christopher O'Donnell has an article in the Tampa Bay Times, St. Pete orders sensitivity training and Kameel Stanly in the Tampa Bay Times, Black workers take concerns, complaints to St. Pete City Council.  Both are well worth your time to read

From the Stanley article:
"We have real issues here," said Robin Wynn, a stormwater worker who recently filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the city for what she calls discriminatory treatment. "This city promotes institutional racism."

The quote above, "This city promotes institutional racism," caught my eye.

I spent almost 30 years with the City of St. Pete, well over half of them as a manager, and my first reaction was: No, the City doesn't promote racism.

Then I reread it. "This City promotes institutional racism," I thought about the word institutional and my view changed.

Over my time at the City of St. Petersburg there were numerous studies on diversity, racial balance and a host of sensitivity training sessions and yet here we are still dealing with the issue.


The conclusion I have come to is: the reason nothing changed is because nothing ever really changed. Read that last sentence again. 

The people who perpetrate these acts never pay the price for their actions.

All of this brought me back to an experience in may early career as a manger with the City in the mid 80s when after promoting a couple of African American employees, a fellow manager stopped me in the hall and asked "you every gonna promote any white people?"

That spirit still exists as typified in this past week's events.

Studies are great they keep consultants employed, sensitivity training rarely produces any results and I have memories of laughing and mocking by managers and supervisors following this type of training.

In fact, if you set near the back of the room, you can just keep working away on your I pad and get a check mark on your HR form for sensitivity training.

When racial retaliation or discrimination occurs there must be a high price extracted from those who commit it because the victims are paying a high price.

What has been sorely lacking in the St. Pete government up to now is definitive action.

The will to actually fire people who commit racial acts no matter who they are, who they know, who their relatives are and  how long they may have been employed by the City.

Whether or not they may sue the City should not be a limiting factor on deciding someone who commits these acts should be fired if we really believe in equality.

And just moving these people to another job simply moves the problem. You probably would not want your doctor just moving the cancer from one part of your body to another.

From Christopher O'Donnell:
“Based upon the results, we’ll design a citywide cultural competence program,” City Administrator Gary Cornwell said. “That will take a little longer because of the process.”

Gary Cornwell was HR Director for decades before he became City Administrator, he and most of the longer term Directors and Mangers know where the problems are and who most of the bad apples are.

It's time to call some people in and just tell them they're through.  If they can retire so be it, if not they're simply unemployed. That will send the message and change the culture.

The Kriseman administration has already shown it's willing to act when given the facts.

They move a little slower at times than I would like, but you can't short them on their courage to act on what they believe is right and changing the racial culture at the City of St. Petersburg is the right thing to do.

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