RACIAL, PAYROLL DIVIDE SEEN IN CITY

Report shows income lags for city employees who live in Albany and minorities

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Thursday, July 15, 2010

ALBANY -- Nearly two-thirds of the city's payroll -- some $46.3 million -- flows outside Albany's borders, according to a new report from Treasurer Kathy Sheehan.


The analysis also reveals that while the city's work force is split between city residents and non-residents, 699 to 689, non-residents are earning far more than those who actually live in Albany -- to the tune of $15 million last year.


Sheehan's report also sheds light on how far the city has come -- and still must go -- to make its work force reflect the racial diversity of the population.


Requested by the Common Council, the report reflects a snapshot of the city's work force as of January.


Residents earned $31.3 million last year compared to $46.3 million for non-residents, according to the analysis using city employees' home addresses. The vast majority of the outflow of cash -- $36.3 million -- is attributable to the police and fire departments, most of whose employees live outside the city.


State law specifically allows police and firefighters to live outside the cities they serve.


As of January, 220 -- or 15.8 percent -- the city's 1,388 employees were black, according to the report. That's up from 11 percent in 2005 but still well below the 28.7 percent of Albany's overall population that identifies itself as African American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


The segment of the work force that is African American, however, earns just 11 percent of the total city payroll, suggesting that the jobs African Americans do land with the city are among the lowest paying.


"We don't even need a report to know that," said Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, who is African American and has long advocated for the city to do a better job recruiting and retaining minority employees. "We know that there's nobody in management."


A similar disparity is evident for female employees, who make up slightly more than 20 percent of the work force but earn just 13.7 percent of the payroll, according to the report.


In terms of diversity, the police and fire departments fell below the city average. Of the fire department's 259 employees, just 4.6 percent are black -- an indication that court-ordered efforts to boost the minority ranks of the department in the wake of 1997 lawsuit, including a police and fire cadet program now in its third summer, have not yet borne fruit.


The fire department has also stepped up its recruiting in minority neighborhoods and has also launched an EMT class at Albany High School to boost interest among teenagers about careers in emergency services.


In the police department, which employs 526 people, just over 15 percent of the work force is black.


Council members received the report on Monday, the same night they questioned Deputy Chief Steven Krokoff, who is in line to be the next police chief, about his plans to diversify the police force and heard him vow to "change the face of the police department."


"It's probably been one of the most difficult parts of our job here in the city," Mayor Jerry Jennings said Wednesday, attributing some of the difficulties to keeping salaries competitive with the state and private sector. Jennings noted that several talented minority city workers have left for better-paying jobs.


The city's equal opportunity employment office is now essentially just one man, Michael Barber, who also has other responsibilities. The Administrative Services Department, which oversees it, has been without a commissioner for more than two years. McLaughlin contends the city must fill that post to prove it's serious about minority recruiting.


But Jennings said city government across the board has been making sincere efforts to find minority candidates and that the charge to do so is much broader than a single office.


"It's not just one office's responsibility, it's everyone's responsibility, including elected officials. It's easy to sit there and point fingers," said Jennings, who suggested that with a projected $20 million budget deficit next year it's unlikely the commissioner's post will be filled soon. "I will be asking fewer people to do more."


Councilman Lester Freeman, the city's former coordinator of equal employment opportunities who now represents the South End, has also questioned the absence of any people of color in the upper-echelons of Jennings' administration.


While a frequent critic of the city's minority hiring, Freeman acknowledged arguing for minority hiring at a time when the city may be cutting jobs next year is a heavy lift.


"It's really tough to make the argument to hire minorities when the budget is this messed up," Freeman said.


The treasurer's report seems likely to rekindle two long-smoldering debates: Whether or not Albany ought to do more to force its employees live within city limits and whether the city's efforts to diversify its work force are succeeding.


In January, Councilman John Rosenzweig proposed a law that would require all new city employees to live in the city, but the measure would specifically exempt police and firefighters.


Currently, a job candidate must live in the city when he or she is hired but is free to move out afterward.


While pushing for city workers to live inside the city is a laudable goal, the city must be able make exceptions for the purpose of hiring qualified people of color, even if that means seeking a change to the law to allow non-residents to be hired, McLaughlin said.


"You've have to take what you want," McLaughlin said. "If you believe in this, and this community believes in equity, you have got to take it by whatever means necessary."


Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.





Albany's work force, at a glance


Number of workers Money earned


Total 1,388 $77.6 million


Residents 699 $31.3 million


Non-residents 689 $46.3 million


White 1,128 $67.2 million


African American 220 $8.5 million


Hispanic 30 $1.2 million


Other 10 $497,404


Source: City treasurer's office





PULLOUT:


"It's really tough to make the argument to hire minorities when the budget is this messed up," -- Councilman Lester Freeman, former coordinator of equal employment opportunities for the city of Albany